The BBC Made a VR Spacewalk Simulation That Impressed Real Astronauts

Thursday, 30 November 2017 - 8:44PM
Space
Virtual Reality
Thursday, 30 November 2017 - 8:44PM
The BBC Made a VR Spacewalk Simulation That Impressed Real Astronauts
BBC
One of the most wonderful things about virtual reality is the opportunity it provides for exploring places and sights that you'd never get the chance to visit in real life. Completely believable worlds can be created in simulation, and players are able to feel as if they're actually present on the Star Wars lava planet of Mustafar, or more real locations like Mount Everest.

On the "real locations" side of things: a brand new VR experience from the BBC will allow anyone with an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift to strap on their VR headsets, and instantly travel up to the International Space Station. The experience, named Home - A VR Spacewalk, has been designed based on input from real life British astronaut Tim Peake, whose own time on the ISS provided the basis of the experience, and the events that play out in the simulation.

According to Peake, who gave a statement in a BBC press release:

Opening quote
"Exploring space is something that motivates a lot of young people to enter careers in science and technology. 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. I hope that having this chance to engage in such a realistic spacewalk experience will help inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers."
Closing quote




While Home is designed to allow users to enjoy the scenery however they choose, it does also have both a game aspect to it, with objectives to achieve, as well as a narrative that runs through the core of the experience. This was based on an emergency training mission that Peake particularly enjoyed while aboard the ISS, but the experience is designed to be fun and engaging without ever forcing the player to face the danger of mission failure if they'd rather just spend time climbing around on the ISS and enjoying the view.

The game's depiction of Earth is particularly impressive. The team wanted the simulation to be as accurate to real life as possible, and as such, the large planet that hangs in the sky above the player has been created at an exact 1:1 scale, with accurate geography, weather patterns, and lighting effects.

This proved a challenge for the developers working on the simulation, as an object that large in the game, with so many different moving pieces, took some inventive programming to ensure that it didn't prove too taxing for users' computers - after all, it is a literal life-size planet that's been created in the game.

While Home has only just been made available to the public, the simulation has been doing the rounds at various VR festivals for a long time, and has picked up some prestigious awards along the way, such a particularly coveted Cannes Lion.


Perhaps even more impressive, though, is the reception that the VR simulation has received from real astronauts that have tried it. According to those working on the project, a few people who've actually visited the ISS and who've given this simulation a try have been blown away by the realism on display here, as well as being impressed by the level of accuracy that's present in the game's missions.

For anyone with the right VR equipment to try Home, the simulation is currently available for download on the Steam and Oculus storefronts. The best part? As with the vast majority of BBC creations, it's funded by a television license fee paid for by British households, meaning that Home is entirely free to download.

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Space
Virtual Reality