Mars Society's MarsVR Tool Could Aid Explorers on Simulated Trips to Red Planet

Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah
The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah hosts missions designed to help prepare for crewed exploration of the Red Planet. (Image credit: The Mars Society)

A long-running "Mars" base here on Earth will get a special virtual-reality upgrade to help its crews, if a crowdfunding campaign goes as planned.

The Mars Society, a nonprofit organization that advocates putting boots on the Red Planet, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a tool called MarsVR. Once operational, MarsVR will aid crewmembers performing simulated Red Planet missions at the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in rural Utah, organization representatives said.

"Phase 1 of the MarsVR program will focus on designing training simulations," the society wrote in a statement on Kickstarter. "Since every moment at MDRS is valuable, just like actual astronauts working in space, the Mars Society wants its crew members to make the most of their time 'on Mars.' We will also open-source the key elements of the platform so that the general public can freely make use of it to experience human Mars exploration."

As of today (May 1), the campaign has reached about 50 percent of its $27,500 goal, with a month of fundraising to go.

MDRS has been hosting crews since 2002, for missions that generally last two weeks. MarsVR will include a simulation of the habitat and its surrounding environment, within 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers). If more funds are raised beyond the $27,500 goal, the society plans to expand the simulation beyond that 1-mile radius.

Some of the many envisioned uses for the tool include research, education for youth, public outreach and providing an open-source platform for joint exploration. 

"The MarsVR program will be a unique multi-phase effort designed to pioneer the emerging field of CrowdExploration, which we define as the partnership between the first astronauts on Mars and VR experts and enthusiasts back on Earth," the Mars Society added in a separate statement.

"With its new MarsVR program, the Mars Society expects to pioneer the use of virtual reality for pre-mission crew training, as well as expanding Mars advocacy and outreach among our global community," Michael Stoltz, the Mars Society's director of media and public relations, added in the statement. 

You can read more details about the project at or the MarsVR Kickstarter page

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: