Virtual Space Exploration

    The Challenge

    Generate Virtual Reality environments for the surface of the Moon and Mars! Obtain 3D models from NASA resources, such as Moon Trek and Mars Trek. Integrate 3D models of surface exploration systems and habitats. Develop and deploy the virtual world at a hosting service.


    Interesting areas of the Moon or Mars could be near the North or South Poles, or any regions that have remarkable surface features. For example, flat areas are attractive as places to land. Permanently shadowed craters may have frozen water at the bottom of them. Skylights are holes that lead to lava tubes that could provide shelter. Areas rich in nickel and titanium are important from the perspective of manufacturing.

    Virtual Reality (VR) enables anyone to explore the Moon and Mars from a distance. With the web apps Moon Trek and Mars Trek, it’s possible to create models that are suitable for VR or 3D printing. Digital Terrain Models from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) can be converted into 3D surface models.

    Your challenge is to create VR experiences that enable the public to explore the Moon and/or Mars.

    This challenge involves VR models of areas of interest on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, but you can also add surface exploration assets. Your VR environment could provide interactivity, such as riding a lander to the surface, or driving a rover.

    Potential Considerations

    To complete this challenge you may consider the following:

    Several websites offer free hosting of VR models and popular game engines are available for free for self-education. Developing a VR model will require some work with a 3D graphics program. Typically, 3D graphics programs and game engines include a script editor to define behaviors. Depending upon the program, the scripting language might be Python, JavaScript, Lua, or a C like language.

    Inspire others to reuse and build upon your VR models! Consider how you can use this challenge to educate the public and inspire students through virtual exploration. Use your project page to explain how you developed and integrated the VR experience and your thoughts about why you selected a particular region of the Moon or Mars. Establish a repository where you can share the 3D models and scripts your team used or developed to create the VR experience. Don’t forget to attribute credit to the organizations that provided the applications that your team used. Provide a link to the VR model or embed it in your project page.

    Examples of Resources

    Surface data about the Moon and Mars include bitmap height maps, Digital Terrain Models, and 3D models. Graphics programs and game engines provide functions to manipulate models, apply texture maps, add lighting sources, and develop behavioral scripts. Hosting services enable the deployment of VR experiences that can be linked to a web page.

    Surface Data Sources

    Developed at JPL, the web apps Moon Trek and Mars Trek provide a function to generate a 3D Print File in STL or OBJ format. When you open these web apps in your web browser, you will be offered a brief tutorial that explains the functions and features. A wrench icon in the upper left corner of these web apps opens a menu with an option to generate a 3D-printable model; selecting that option will open a dialog box. Select OBJ, and decrease the resolution to a number around 100. Exaggerate the surface features by a value greater than one and less than 11.

    Virtual Reality Development Systems

    After identifying interesting areas and exporting an OBJ file or selecting a DTM for conversion, a game engine provides the capability to integrate models of surface exploration systems from NASA 3D Resources and to develop scripts for interaction or animation.

    Virtual Reality Hosting Web Services

    After integrating your virtual reality model, you can upload it to a hosting service. A few VR hosting services provide a web-based editor; so, it’s possible to skip a game engine.

    Suggested keywords for online resource searches:

    • Virtual world hosting
    • 3D game development system
    • Virtual Reality development kits
    • Virtual reality Application Programming Interface or API
    • 3D graphics code libraries for Javascript
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