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HoloLens units destroyed on way to International Space Station

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

It was a simple plan, really. Just toss a few of Microsoft's brand new HoloLens augmented reality headsets into the boot of a Falcon 9 rocket and send them along to the astronauts on the International Space Station. However, the trip ended abruptly 2 minutes and 19 seconds after liftoff when SpaceX's resupply ship blew up.

Due to a failure in one of the Falcon 9's oxygen tanks, the two pairs of goggles — along with around 5,000 pounds of food, science experiments and other equipment — fell back to Earth and burned up on reentry.

NASA has been working with Microsoft for some time on the HoloLens technology, with researchers here on Earth using it to simulate the Martian landscape around the Curiosity rover. The goal of the trip to the ISS was to use the goggles in a few different ways, letting the crew in space and the crew on the ground share visual information in ways they had never been able to before.

Using a suite of software called Sidekick, there were two intended modes of use for the HoloLens. The first, called "Remote Expert Mode," would have allowed ground operators to virtually look through the eyes of an ISS crew member. "Procedure Mode," on the other hand, was intended to make it possible for animated instruction sets to be overlaid directly into a crew member's field of view.

The failure of the Falcon 9 was just the latest setback for the team at SpaceX, which for the past few years has been attempting to land the rocket's booster stage safely on Earth for reuse. After a few stunning crashes at sea, the plan this time was to attempt a landing at Vandenburg Airforce Base in California.

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