May 12, 2021

VR will let you fly above the planet from the comfort of your couch

Pin It Chelsea Stark And Miriam Kramer

Astronauts who have been to space often talk about looking down on the Earth and seeing the blues, greens and browns of the planet stretch out below them.

Once they see the planet against the blackness of space, some astronauts and cosmonauts experience a perspective shift known as the “overview effect” — a phenomenon in which, after seeing the world from above without national borders, they feel a closer kinship with all of humanity, regardless of nationality.

Imagine if millions of people could experience a little piece of the overview effect without ever leaving Earth. That’s the lofty ambition of SpaceVR: to help the planet-bound feel like they’ve left Earth behind and are floating in the weightlessness of the International Space Station.

“We’re only getting a few people up in space each decade,” said SpaceVR co-founder and CTO Isaac De Souza. “If you think about ideas like the 1%, or the .01%, this actually has a couple more zeros in front of that decimal point.”

De Souza and CEO Ryan Holmes plan to democratize the this view of our planet by putting it inside virtual reality headsets. SpaceVR will send a specially designed 360-degree camera up to the Space Station, which will eventually beam back videos that will be cut up and redistributed via SpaceVR’s platform.

2015-09-11-bd-ISS.4fe97SpaceVR hopes to get its camera to the Space Station aboard an Orbital Sciences robotic Cygnus capsule, which launches to the station in December. The company has a deal with NanoRacks, which will help with space station logistics, and the 3D printing company Made in Space, which currently has a 3D printer on the Space Station.

The first videos will be views from the ISS’s Cupola, a window from which astronauts have spent their limited free time in space watching the Earth spin. The camera is made up of 12 GoPros rigged together by the SpaceVR team, with modified software so that their storage is combined. The resulting video is then edited together into a 4K-resolution, 360-degree format in stereoscopic 3D — ideal for virtual reality headsets.

Holmes and De Souza aim to work on all headsets, from the high-end Oculus Rift, to Samsung’s mobile Gear VR, to smartphones using Google Cardboard. SpaceVR promises four pieces of content, totaling about two hours, each month for a $10 subscription fee.

Although all the partnerships are reportedly in place, SpaceVR wants to raise at least $500,000 via its just-launched Kickstarter campaign to help build the platform and send it to space.

“With 500 people experiencing this, it’s like a novelty. But with a million people experiencing this, it’s a movement,” De Souza said. “And with a billion people, you’ve had a shift in global consciousness.”


Earth from space A view of Earth from the Cupola on the International Space Station. IMAGE: NASA

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