Project Sidekick
NASA employees test the HoloLens in weightless conditions. NASA

Earlier today, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station received a welcome delivery from Earth: over 7,700 pounds of supplies, including food, science experiments, and most unusual of all, several Microsoft HoloLens headsets. Just what will the astronauts be using these crazy new headsets for?

Popular Science got the opportunity to ask this very question in a live interview earlier today with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko (video above).

Both men are spending over a year aboard the station as part of a grand experiment to find out how long missions in space affect the human body. And having already spent 257 days of their year-long mission inside the relatively cramped confines up in orbit, they’re probably more eager than most to try something totally new.

But beyond that, it’s easy to see how Microsoft’s HoloLens could be quite useful aboard the station: the experimental headset uses a type of technology known as augmented reality (or “AR” for short), which lets you see computer graphics and other digital information layered over the real world around you (unlike virtual reality, which blocks the real world and immerses you totally in a virtual one).

In the few previous demos of the HoloLens, Microsoft has shown off gamers battling hordes of virtual robots that appear to break through the walls of your living room, as well as more mundane but potentially constructive purposes like letting medical students see inside models of the human body, or letting product designers mock-up 3D designs out of thin-air.

So what will the station astronauts be doing with the HoloLens? Popular Science executive editor Jennifer Bogo asked Scott Kelly, and he responded by pointing out two possible working situations: going through a list of procedures, and interacting with space station equipment. As Kelly said:

The HoloLens won’t be available outside of Microsoft and the space station until early 2016, and even then, the first copies will go only to registered software developers for the eye-popping price of $3,000 for each headset. So for now, we’ll all have to enjoy its capabilities through the eyes of the astronauts!