Escaping Earth and Hanging out in Space

A review of the Science Museum’s new VR experience – Space Descent VR with Tim Peake

Last week I found myself hovering in the dusky outskirts of Earth’s atmosphere, meandering through the beginnings of space, as the International Space Station glided past me. It was so close I could almost reach out and touch the white metallic sheets, gleaming in the sunlight. As I peered down onto Earth and twisted myself around to gaze at the endless vacuum behind me, I felt a dizzying sense of perspective. Inspecting this incredible panorama, I was suddenly transported into the cramped innards of the Soyuz spacecraft, which was bringing me hurtling back down to Earth at an astonishing rate of 25,000km per hour.

I eventually landed safely (if not without a bit of a bump) in a brown, slightly dusty field in Kazakhstan.

Once I’d landed, the credits started rolling, and feeling a little out of sorts I pulled off the VR headset and sat for a few moments before reaching down to the cup of coffee sat by my side, waiting patiently for my descent back into the Science Museum.

The Space Descent had been my first go with VR, and being guided by the narration of astronaut Tim Peake in a space adventure, was a brilliant way to start. It is hard to imagine that I was plummeting from 400km up back to the ground in the 1.5 tonne Russian Soyuz spacecraft, when moments before I had been walking around in the Wellcome Wing. The experience was peculiarly realistic, although perhaps that’s unsurprising when bearing in mind it took 100 computers a full month to render. Nevertheless, both the grandness of being out in space, and the minute details of the inside of the spacecraft made it feel palpable, and gave me a genuine sense of excitement at being able to experience such a rare trip.

The 360 video has been built and produced by Alchemy VR, who have previously created wildlife documentary VR experiences with David Attenborough. Their team consulted experts, such as Tim Peake, to try and generate an accurate portrayal of the journey back to Earth. It seems they succeeded, with Tim Peake describing the final product as ‘breath-taking’, stating that ‘visitors are going to experience something that truly is very close to the real thing!’. Anthony Geffen, the founder of Alchemy VR added: ‘We are tremendously proud of this exciting experience, which takes visitors on a journey no other technology could achieve.’

And they should be proud of it. I left the Science Museum that day feeling inspired and enthusiastic for all things in science and technology. It really was as if I’d been taken on a journey through space. So, if you fancy escaping Earth, even if it is just for 15 minutes or so, I’d recommend heading over to the Science Museum and strapping on a headset for yourself.

The Space Descent VR experience at the Science Museum opens 24 March 2017, with booking online recommended. Tickets cost £7.

Madeleine Finlay is styuding for an MSc in Science Communication

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