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Take a Virtual Trip to the International Space Station

New VR simulation turns you into an orbiting astronaut

smithsonian.com

What’s life like aboard the International Space Station? This is a question only a select few can answer. But thanks to a new virtual reality tour, more people than ever can step aboard the floating lab to virtually explore the station and its mind-boggling views, reports Mashable’s Adario Strange.

Created in collaboration with NASA and the Canadian and European space agencies, the new program is called Mission: ISS. And it’s probably the closest you’ll ever come to visiting the space station for yourself. The program uses Oculus Rift virtual reality and Oculus Touch motion control to create a realistic simulation of life aboard the station.

As Oculus writes on its blog, the movie was designed to recreate the ISS “in painstaking detail.” The free simulation was based on NASA models and developed with the input of astronauts and NASA’s Virtual Reality Laboratory, which uses virtual reality to train astronauts for their in-space tasks.

With the help of motion controls, users can try their hand at everything from spacewalks to docking spacecrafts—all in a simulated zero-gravity environment. (Strange warns that the simulated weightlessness is so realistic that might want to sit down before stepping into the virtual world.)

The simulation may be fun, but it is no video game, Strange writes. The program is intended give users a realistic idea of what it's like to live in space. Users can also learn about individual astronauts and the history of the ISS through a series of video clips. The team is also testing the program as an educational tool to teach U.S. high school students about the station.

Augmented reality is already being tested in space with the help of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, which will one day be used to guide repairs and let on-ground techs see exactly what astronauts observe. But virtual reality—completely immersive simulations—has yet to make it into space. That’s about to change, according to the Oculus blog. An Oculus headset will be sent to space and used by astronaut Thomas Pesquet to test how gravity affects spatial awareness. 

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