How VR and AR could turn you into a bona fide space explorer

12444-c9a15545b69790cfe97a93810d1c1e12Mainstream virtual reality is still in its infancy but it’s been tackling the final frontier – space – for years. Now the latest hardware, such as the Oculus RiftHTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR headsets, combined with sophisticated 360-degree filming techniques, is finally bringing space exploration to the masses.

VR’s ability to produce large-scale 3D environments not only offers armchair astronauts a glimpse of what life is like in space, it is now also more helpful than ever at aiding real-life astronauts in their jobs both on Earth and out there. 

What’s more, augmented reality can offer spacemen and women a new perspective by merging the worlds of Earth and space. Compared to VR, though, augmented reality still has some way to go before we start to see smartglasses and AR helmets both on our faces and in our homes.

Training astronauts

While virtual reality has been relatively slow to catch on in the mainstream, NASA has been using it for more than 25 years because it’s simply one of the best ways to replicate space while remaining safely on home soil.

“Simulated environments have always been important in astronaut training,” explains Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronaut crews all spent at least one third of their training time in simulators and contemporary crews use VR simulations to train for tasks on the International Space Station (ISS).

Early NASA headsets were improvised affairs – the first prototype of the Virtual Environment Workstation headset was built from a motorcycle helmet – and the American space agency has continued to update the tech involved. Astronauts now use NASA’s Virtual Reality Lab (VRL), located at the Johnson Space Center, to train for missions aboard the ISS. Using a headset, real-time graphics and motion simulators, astronauts train to carry out tasks during microgravity spacewalks.

A vital part of the training involves using their powered jetpack – the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) – which carries very limited fuel, to navigate their way back to the ISS should they get stranded in space. 

The ability to recreate a life-size 3D environment makes VR ideal for astronaut training and now NASA is looking at using augmented reality to keep reality in the frame.

You can read the rest of the article at Wareable (originally published 20 April 2016).

Why you should go and check out Cosmonauts at the Science Museum, London

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While the U.S.A supposedly won the space race – with the admittedly impressive feat of putting a man on the moon – It was the Soviet Union that led the way with practically every other space ‘first’.

The Soviets were behind the first satellite in orbit (Sputnik 1), first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), first woman (Valentina Tereshkova), first dog (Laika) and first spacewalk (Alexey Leonov).

What’s more, it was also responsible for the first photos of the dark side of the moon (Luna 3), first probe to orbit the moon (Luna 10), first multi-person crew (Voskhod 1) and first space tourist (Dennis Tito on Soyuz TM-32). Even following the Apollo moon landings, it was the Soviet Union that was the first to build a space station (Mir).

However, until now Soviet and Russian space tech has been wildly underrepresented, especially at London’s Science Museum, with its permanent space gallery including only a passing mention.

The South Kensington institution is putting that right with its museum-based form of Perestroika in which curators have gathered together the largest collection of Russian space exploration artefacts ever seen. Brought in from numerous locations, most of the pieces on show have never been on public display before.

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The impressive selection of artefacts ranges from early satellites and spacecraft to personal cosmonaut memorabilia and Soviet space propaganda.

Techie highlights include Tereshkova’s Vostok 6 capsule, visibly charred from its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, along with first multi-person space craft Voskhod 1 and the spacesuit used by Helen Sharman who became the first Briton in space when she flew to space station Mir in 1991 on a collaborative mission between Russia and a collective of British companies.

A scale model of the stunning Sputnik 1 hangs from the ceiling as you enter the exhibition. The Soviet Union’s visionary rocket engineer Sergei Korolev, then only known as the mysterious ‘Chief Designer’ cannily declared that the history-making satellite needed to look good as one day it would be displayed in museums around the world.

Seeing numerous parties of school kids arriving at the Science Museum reminded us how just important this exhibition is. When the T3 crew were at school in the dying days of the Cold War, we were taught about Gagarin and Tereshkova and not much else.

It wasn’t until 1989, with Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost reforms in full swing, that the Soviet Union even admitted that it had worked on a manned lunar programme, which it ditched in 1970 after Neil Armstrong beat them to the moon.

The Cosmonauts exhibition includes the LK-3 Lunar Lander – a five-tonne spacecraft built to go head-to-head with Apollo – a sight never seen outside of Russia before…

You can read the rest of the article at T3.com (originally published 13 October 2015).