NASA ‘holoported’ a doctor to the International Space Station

NASA flight surgeon Dr. Josef Schmid gives a space salute on October 8, 2021, as he is holoported to the International Space Station.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet

I have a new noun for your vocabulary: Holoportation.

It’s an amalgamation of “hologram” and “teleportation,” and while it may seem like it, it’s not just a niche sci-fi term buried somewhere in Isaac Asimov’s novels and Star Trek episodes.

In October, NASA used this mind-boggling futuristic mechanism to carry NASA flight surgeon Dr. Josef Schmid to the International Space Station while safely planted on our planet. No rockets needed.

Schmid was accompanied on this transdimensional journey by Fernando De La Pena Llaca, the CEO of AEXA Aerospace, an organization that helped develop the holoportation team, and a few other members of the team.

“It’s a new form of human exploration where our human entity can travel off-planet,” Schmid said in a statement in early April. “Our physical body is not there, but our human entity is absolutely there.”

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Members of the holoportation team are seen virtually projected onto the International Space Station, on October 8, 2021. From left to right are Andrew Madrid, Dr. Fernando De La Pena Llaca, RIhab Sadik, Dr. Joe Schmid, Kevin Bryant, Mackenzie Hoffman, Wes Tarkington.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet

Although almost unbelievable, holoportation is not an entirely new technology. Microsoft came up with the idea several years ago, but with the primary intention of revolutionizing industries like advertising, land-based hospital care, and education, and has been steadily developing the concept ever since. But NASA’s recent effort took the feat to the next level.

This is the first time that such a virtual transport has successfully carried people beyond planet earth.

This is how it all happened.

Basically, high-quality 3D models of the holocarriers were developed, digitally compressed, transmitted, and reconstructed in the space lab, all in real time.

Meanwhile, a mixed reality display aboard the ISS, namely Microsoft’s HoloLens, allowed both holocarriers and astronauts to see, hear and interact with each other as if they were in the same physical space. Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, for example, had a two-way conversation with Schmid and De La Pena right in the middle of the ISS despite being miles and miles away from the holocarriers.

The trio even holographically shook hands.

“We will use this for our private medical conferences, private psychiatric conferences, private family conferences, and to bring VIPs to the space station to visit astronauts,” NASA said in a statement.

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HoloLens 2 from Microsoft from last year.

Scott Stein/CNET

And, in the future, the agency intends to expand its system by adding an augmented reality feature, which would give holocarriers the option to actually move around the space station and see things as if they were literally there. Anything but physical contact, you could say.

This could help with extraterrestrial telemedicine for astronauts, ISS construction projects, and even greatly benefit future deep space exploration. The last part, however, can hit a big hurdle: Communications between Earth and space typically experience delays of up to 20 minutes when communicating with systems in a vacuum, NASA says. Holoportation, however, is intended to be “live,” so holocarriers could “stay on board” for real-time communication, as the recent prototype delivered to the ISS demonstrates.

“It doesn’t matter that the space station is traveling at 17,500 miles per hour and constantly moving in orbit 250 miles above Earth,” Schmid said. “The astronaut can come back three minutes or three weeks later, and with the system working, we’ll be right there in that place, living on the space station.”

Additionally, NASA says this could have direct applications on Earth, such as for researchers working in extreme environments or specialists in military operations.

“Imagine being able to bring the best instructor or actual designer of a particularly complex technology to your side wherever you’re working on it,” Schmid said. “They can work together on the device, as if two of the best surgeons were working during an operation. This would put everyone at ease knowing that the best team is working together on a critical piece of hardware.”

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