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Nat Geo Built a Mars VR Theme Park in New York

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Visitors got an immersive taste of living on Mars.

In advance of their new Mars docu-series that premieres November 14, Nat Geo created a red planet habitat on an empty downtown Manhattan lot last month. The tented activation, called “Experience Mars,” was part of the company’s effort to show us what it might be like to visit Mars, taking full-advantage of some serious VR setups to make this one interstellar trip to remember.

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Setting the stage for the experience was a multi-dome facility similar to what has been teased for the Mars mini-series, a fact-based dramatization of what it might be like to send the first human visitors to Mars in 2033. The scripted drama also includes docu-style interviews with SpaceX founder Elon Musk, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, science writer Ann Druyan, and others about the actual history of the space program and its efforts to reach Mars.

And just like the show, the “Mars Experience” brought together real-life NASA history with fictionalized recreations of what its like to travel through space. Aside from props from the six-part TV mini-series and replicas of NASA’s Mars rovers, Nat Geo showed off a cable-based VR experience that had you strapped in a seat donning an Oculus Rift headset. The 90-second amusement park-style ride flung you into the air, immersing you in an atmosphere descent and flight over the Martian landscape.

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The second VR experience on site could be found in the next dome habitat, where you could take a virtual stroll on the Red Planet. The “Lo-Gravity Training Module,” had you step into compression pants, which were then zippered into AlterG low-gravity treadmills. While wearing a Gear VR headset, you could experience walking on a simulated reduced gravity Mars, immersing yourself in the landscape as you walked in full 360°. The highly specialized treadmills were originally designed to help injured patients rehabilitate, although a novel addition to VR, it does help create a physical feeling of walking in low gravity.

Organizers estimated that about 3,500 people came through the experience over the four-day run.

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During the NewFronts Conference in May, Nat Geo unveiled their plan to form NG VR Studio — a virtual reality studio to take viewers to the front lines of the action, placing them on the ground alongside Nat Geo explorers, photographers and storytellers through Nat Geo VR. Nat Geo VR was announced to offer both originals and franchises of the brand’s popular media properties, which included simulating what it takes to build a home on the Red Planet in anticipation of the television premiere of Mars.

Image Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for National Geographic Channel

About the Scout

Jonathan Nafarrete

Jonathan Nafarrete is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of VRScout.

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