Motion capture technology, commonly used by visual effects companies for character animation, is being used to ensure the safety of Space Shuttle crews in outer space. This novel use of a visual effects tool was revealed by the UK-based company Vicon, providers of the technology.

NASA are using a ten-camera Vicon motion capture system, coupled with Vicon software for real-time processing, to evaluate the feasibility of astronauts leaving a Space Shuttle in order to review and repair tile damage, according to Vicon.

The system will be used to track crews as they attempt repairs in different zero-gravity simulations. NASA scientists can then use the motion capture footage to decide which manoeuvers astronauts can safely perform outside the craft during a mission flight.

Any work on the outside the space shuttle is both critical, due to the dangers incolved, and complicated, because the calculations of the dynamics must be factored in advance. These dynamics include the astronaut's approach to the Shuttle, the properties and abilities of their jetpacks, the landing position and the orientation angles of their depth gauge. These, as well as the interplay of other kinematic variables, are being studied with the Vicon motion capture system.

"These applications obviously demand accuracy and dependability beyond question." said Mike Kocourek, Vicon's business development manager. "It's been a real thrill to have Vicon equipment installed to support NASA's leading-edge work."