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Pikachu in space for Pokémon
Pikachu may fly on a rainbow in space, but don’t expect to catch one on the International Space Station. (Credit: Pikachu via YouTube)

Astronauts have zapped virtual aliens on the International Space Station, using Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-reality headset. So how about Pokémon Go, the latest craze in mixed-reality smartphone gaming? No-go, says NASA.

“It is not possible for astronauts to play,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told GeekWire, in just one of many emails he’s been sending out today in response to press queries. “There is a small number of smartphones available on ISS which the crew use for science activities (like SPHERES), but not for personal use.”

The smartphones and tablets that are in use on the station don’t have internet connectivity, Huot explained. The astronauts have access only to the apps designed for the payloads they’re intended for, and can’t add apps as is typically done by smartphone users on Earth. If they need to use the internet – for example, to post snapshots on Twitter – they connect via laptops that are locked down in terms of cybersecurity.

“And as far as location services, the astronauts use ISS internal GPS data and custom applications to determine their location and position,” Huot said. “Location-based services we use here on Earth are not utilized.”

That means the space station’s navigation network couldn’t work with the Pokémon critters’ coordinates, even if the astronauts were connected to the game.

Microsoft’s HoloLens is a different kettle of virtual fish: The headsets on the space station are meant to be used for Project Sidekick, an experiment looking at how mixed-reality environments could help the astronauts through a multi-step procedure, or help them work together with ground controllers at NASA’s Mission Control Center on specific tasks in orbit.

If one of those tasks happens to be blasting video-game aliens, as was the case when year-in-space astronaut Scott Kelly tried out the goggles a few months ago – well, that’s science!

Huot said there hasn’t been much done with the HoloLens headsets since Kelly conducted the initial checkouts.

“Teams are finalizing some security protocols in the MCC-to-ISS connection to use the device before it becomes a regular-use tool,” he said.

It’s probably a good idea for NASA to be careful when it comes to mixed-reality gaming. We wouldn’t want the space station crew to go through the troubles that the Starship Enterprise’s crew did on an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”


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