NASA is offering $70k as a prize for the best design for a Martian metaverse to help train astronauts

NASA is offering a cut of $70,000 to developers who can design virtual reality scenarios to help scientists prepare for life on Mars.

The U.S. space agency, in partnership with virtual reality simulation developer Buendea and Fortnite maker Epic Games, put out the call earlier this month for help creating “a new virtual reality research, development, and testing environment to help prepare for the experiences and situations that will be encountered on Mars.”

“The goal is to create an immersive, engaging, and realistic experience,” NASA wrote in a release about the program. 

The virtual “operations support system” setting is being developed on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 — a platform used by companies to host interactive experiences and virtual reality environments.

The organizations behind the scheme have already partially completed a virtual version of the red planet. It includes realistic weather conditions, Martian gravity, around 154 square-miles of realistic Mars terrain, and full Martian days complete with “the orange hues of day transitioning to blue at night.”

NASA, Buenda and Fortnite said they are now looking for developers to pitch designs in five categories: setting up camp, scientific research, maintenance, exploration, and “blowing our minds.”  

The $70,000 will be split between 20 individual prizes, according to the space agency. The overall winner of each category will win $6,000.The competition closes on July 26.

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