“I’ll never get to do this, but here…This is incredible. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, son.”
A father, slightly teary and choked up was describing to his son what he was feeling as he experienced the Apollo 11 VR program (video here). The Apollo 11 VR experience, which came out of VR Immersive Education, ended up taking first place at the 2015 Future of Storytelling Conference in New York. Congrats to the CEO David Whelan. It seems the virtual reality space race has begun.
As the father in the video above sums up, many of us have a deep fascination with the stars, yet without the $250k for a private space flight, or the deep knowledge of astronomy learned over countless years of studying and application, the odds of us putting on a spacesuit and making the trip are pretty slim. So creative people, did what creative people do and utilized the technology of the times, in this case VR, to start constructing a worm hole for us earth bound beings to live among the stars.
One of the companies aiming to be a pioneer in this space (booyah) is SpaceVR, a company founded by Ryan Holmes, based out of San Francisco, CA. They ran a kickstarter campaign to send a 3D camera to the international space station so that we all can experience the awe of floating above our world. They also aim to create a library of different space related experiences from vehicle launches, extravehicular activity, extraterrestrial environments, and more! The “and more!” was from their website, I don’t talk like that, just to be transparent. There’s a quote on Holmes’ linkedin profile that sums up their position pretty well:
“People want to go to Space. Our goal is to let them. Using high resolution 360 cameras to provide the most unparalleled immersive experience viewable on any VR or mobile device at an affordable price point.”
Mars 2030 Experience
Even more recently some major players, NASA, MIT and Fusion, got together to take us to Mars. The Mars 2030 Experience is planning to debut at South by Southwest in March 2016. They’ve brought in Irrational Games who made Bioshock, to design an experience where one can drive the Mars Rover as well as complete missions on the red planet. For more specifics about the Mars 2030 experience, Fortune did a great piece about it.
Did I really just link out to another article about the same subject matter? Yes, I did. I did it because the specifics of the story are interesting, but the story itself is a piece in the larger picture I’m enthralled with. Apollo, SpaceVR and the Mars 2030 experience are exciting because for those of us that are enthusiastically stuck in the orbit of space and science, we see these as stepping stones to reach a perspective we have only imagined. It’s one thing to dive into a completely manufactured world, it’s another to be taken to a real one that has always eluded you. There’s a humanity to it. As SpaceVR references on their Kickstarter, there is something called the “Overview Effect” that they want to incite. Edgar Mitchell, the Apollo 14 astronaut who walked on the moon for over 9 hours, talked about this effect like this:
He described the sensation gave him a profound sense of connectedness, with a feeling of bliss and timelessness. He was overwhelmed by the experience. He became profoundly aware that each and every atom in the Universe was connected in some way, and on seeing Earth from space he had an understanding that all the humans, animals and systems were a part of the same thing, a synergistic whole. It was an interconnected euphoria. (Astronomy Daily Source)
You’ll overhear this in any Whole Foods or Yoga class, but there’s something about an astronaut saying it that feels convincing. What if we all had a chance to see our world that way? Looking through a headset isn’t quite being there, but it’s closer than a picture on a 2D screen. We’re all that Dad in the video. Astronauts who never got the chance to put on a suit, strap onto a rocket and float among the heavens. I love the work being done in empathy based VR, where people are taken through experiences that are so completely foreign to them that it slightly widens their lens to the plight of other humans. Space though, in my opinion, is the trunk to those branches of perspective. A totally unifying glimpse at our civilization and interconnectedness. To bring that thought, in any capacity, to the users that are and will be arriving to the VR platform over the next few years, is exciting not just for what we will experience within the headset, but for how we interact without them.
Image Credit: SpaceVR / NASA