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December 1, 2017

Go spacewalking as an astronaut with a new VR experience for Vive, Rift

by John_A

Only a small batch of humans will ever get to experience the wonders and terrors of spacewalking within the next decade, but now you can safely get a taste in virtual reality through Home — A VR Spacewalk. The 15-minute session outside the International Space Station is free and available now for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets.

The virtual spacewalk is a result of a collaboration between London-based digital production studio Rewind, BBC Science, BBC Learning, BBC Digital Storytelling, NASA, and the ESA. Originally created for the HTC Vive using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4, Home — A VR Spacewalk began making its initial appearances at events starting in June 2016, but is now made generally available.

In Home, virtual astronauts step into the shoes of Tim Peake as he ventures out into space 250 miles above the Earth. His most recent trip to the space station lasted 186 days with lots of coffee in tow, and concluded when he touched ground in June 2016. Peake didn’t return to space until he donned the HTC Vive in early November to experience the very virtual spacewalk he helped create.

“That’s cool! Really good graphics, brilliant! We don’t have the ability to control our movement like this in Houston. I’m moving faster than I could in real life, but this is great for orientation; this would be perfect for training,” he said after a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society.

According to Rewind, the VR spacewalk includes support for haptic feedback chairs so virtual astronauts can feel similar full-body vibrations experienced by astronauts when they come in physical contact with the space station. There’s also a Bluetooth component that monitors your heart rate, and replicates the sound of your beating heart.

“Exploring space is something that motivates a lot of young people to enter careers in science and technology,” he added. “This is a really exciting time because the new generation will have unprecedented opportunities to really fly into space. The Home Virtual Reality experience brings that opportunity even closer, in a very authentic and accessible way.”

Home provides plenty of challenges for virtual astronauts to deal with, just like Tim Peake and his spacewalking comrades. The experience also promises an “emergency scenario” so you’re not just floating around in space like all the other human-injected debris and galactic junk circling the Earth. The overall experience has thrilled viewers over the last year and a half to the point of landing numerous awards, including Best Immersive Experience at Binge Watch.

To this date, only 215 humans have walked in space since man first journeyed into the void. But with Home – A VR Spacewalk, any HTC Vive and Oculus Rift owner can get a taste without the million-dollar expense and risks of sudden death. The only “expense” for virtual astronauts is the computer and VR headset investment while the only “danger” is possibly tripping over the headset cable if you’re standing during the experience.

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