'The Mars 2030 Experience' Will Let You Explore The Actual Surface Of Mars

See the Red Planet in all of its Red Glory.

If you're looking to become one of the first people to walk on Mars, the good news is NASA is currently looking for new astronauts. The bad news is that should you even qualify and become one, it's going to take until at least the 2030s to get to the Red Planet. Hold up though, there's actually more good news — NASA is teaming up with Fusion and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to bring Mars to us through virtual reality.

The Mars 2030 Experience, as it's called, is supposed to debut at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2016 in Austin, Texas, and will allow users to walk or "drive" a Mars Rover prototype across several square miles of real Martian land. Available on Google Cardboard, Facebook's Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR, the in-depth adventure will use "real topographic data and accurate color reference," said Justin Sonnekalb, a technical designer at Irrational Games, the team developing the project.

"Most images from Mars are either raw data that hasn't been color-corrected to match human eyesight, or has been tuned to reflect Earth's lighting conditions because it both affords greater visual contrast and appears more natural," Sonnekalb explained. "There's something inherently cool about the authenticity of that, particularly with the additional immersion afforded by VR."

Virtual reality is apparently already a large part of preparing future human missions to space, Mars included. That's why it only makes sense to extend the sensation of walking around on an alien planet to the general public in a controlled interactive environment. Although it's a far cry from actually living on Mars, it's an interesting use of virtual reality from both an educational and an entertainment standpoint. Giving people access to something literally a world away is a great showcase for what virtual reality can do. The technology is already letting us dip our toes in with immersive reporting and unprecedented looks at NFL practices. If the next step is already Mars, imagine where we might go after.

Cover image: Wikimedia