NASA Microsoft Project Sidekick
NASA and Microsoft engineers test Project Sidekick on NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet. Project Sidekick will use Microsoft HoloLens to provide virtual aid to astronauts working on the International Space Station. NASA

Star Trek's Geordi La Forge would be proud. Two HoloLens headsets will be traveling to the International Space Station during SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission on June 28. The collaboration between NASA and Microsoft, named Sidekick, will use the headsets to virtually assist the astronauts should they need it.

Sidekick will help astronauts in two ways, using the “Remote Expert Mode” they can connect to a ground operator via Skype and get real-time help, as the operator will be able to see what they see and draw annotations in the astronauts environment. This is very different to the voice and written instructions that astronauts currently receive.

“Procedure Mode” uses animated holographic illustrations on top of objects the crew is interacting with, which could lessen the amount of training required for future crews. In a statement yesterday NASA mentioned that Sidekick could help future explorers on the journey to Mars.

"Sidekick is a prime example of an application for which we envisioned HoloLens being used -- unlocking new potential for astronauts and giving us all a new perspective on what is possible with holographic computing,” said Alex Kipman, technical fellow for Microsoft’s OS group.

To ensure the project worked as planned in a weightless environment, NASA and Microsoft engineers tested Sidekick and the HoloLens aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet.

The devices that arrive during the June 28 mission will be tested by crew members in a standalone mode. NASA said in a statement, “a second set of devices to be delivered on a future mission will test and verify Sidekick functionality with network connectivity to test the Remote Expert Mode.”

Sidekick will also be tested by astronauts and engineers during a two-week expedition to the undersea research station Aquarius, set to begin on July 21, with NASA saying the habitat and surroundings “provide a convincing analog for space exploration.”

This is not the first time NASA and Microsoft have collaborated, coming together earlier this year to create OnSight, software that lets HoloLens users interact and conduct science experiments on a simulation of Mars.