ISS astronauts will be the next to try out Microsoft's HoloLens

Augmented reality in orbit

We're pretty excited about the development of Microsoft's augmented reality headset HoloLens, though as yet very few people have got to give one a try. The astronauts on board the International Space Station are about to be added to that select group - Microsoft is sending a couple of the AR devices along with the next NASA resupply mission.

The augmented reality technology will be used to project detailed instructions right in front of the eyes of the astronauts while their hands are kept free for other tasks. If you're trying to fix a faulty oxygen filer that kind of real-time, instant feedback can be crucial.

The HoloLenses should also enable closer collaboration between NASA scientists on the ground and its astronauts in space. Ground control will more easily be able to see through the eyes of the astronaut in space, for example, and then channel responses through the headset.

Project Sidekick

It's part of an ongoing Microsoft-NASA initiative known as Project Sidekick, which aims to use commercial technology to assist astronauts in their experiments and daily duties. The HoloLens headsets were scheduled to be sent to the ISS in June, but the resupply rocket disintegrated during launch.

Augmented reality differs from virtual reality as it overlays digital elements on top of the real world rather than creating a completely sealed-in virtual experience. No doubt NASA's engineers will be eager to have a play around with the Oculus Rift VR headset when the time comes as well.

For those of us stuck down here on Earth, the wait for the HoloLens is going to be a little longer. Developers can pay $3k (AU$4,120, £1,990) for an early version from the start of next year, but there's no news yet on when a wider consumer release is going to happen.