NASA 'holoported' doctor from Earth to International Space Station

  • 20/04/2022
The holoported doctor on the ISS
"Our physical body is not there, but our human entity absolutely is there." Photo credit: Supplied / ESA / Thomas Pesquet

In a scene that seems more like Star Trek than reality, NASA has confirmed it 'holoported' a doctor from Earth into space late last year.

The space agency's flight surgeon Dr Josef Schmid was placed in the middle of the International Space Station (ISS) alongside Fernando De La Pena Llaca, CEO of AEXA Aerospace in October.

That allowed European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet to have a two-way conversation, with live images of the holoported visitors generated by Microsoft's Hololens Kinect camera and custom software.

"This is a completely new manner of human communication across vast distances. Furthermore, it is a brand-new way of human exploration, where our human entity is able to travel off the planet," Schmid said.

"Our physical body is not there, but our human entity absolutely is there. It doesn't matter that the space station is travelling 17,500m/h (28,000km/h) and in constant motion in orbit 250 miles (400km) above Earth, the astronaut can come back three minutes or three weeks later and with the system running, we will be there in that spot, live on the space station."

According to NASA, holoportation capture technology allows high-quality 3D models to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted anywhere in real time. Combined with mixed reality displays, participants can then see, hear and interact as if they were in the same room.

The agency is planning on using holoportation more extensively in future missions, including people on Earth being beamed to space but also with astronauts beamed home.

"We'll use this for our private medical conferences, private psychiatric conferences, private family conferences and to bring VIPs onto the space station to visit with astronauts," Schmid said.

Augmented reality will then be combined with the holoportation technology to allow tele-monitoring of astronauts and better working opportunities.

"Imagine you can bring the best instructor or the actual designer of a particularly complex technology right beside you wherever you might be working on it," Schmid said.

"Furthermore, we will combine augmented reality with haptics.

"You can work on the device together, much like two of the best surgeons working during an operation. This would put everyone at rest knowing the best team is working together on a critical piece of hardware."

NASA said the technology can also be directly applied in extreme environments on Earth as well in Space, like Antarctica, oil rigs or during military operations.

However, holoportation isn't necessarily the answer to all communication problems for future astronauts.

When a mission to Mars happens, communications delays of up to 20 minutes each way will occur due to the large distances - and that impacts all transmissions, whether it's radio, video or holoportation.