As close to outer space as you can get on earth.
utside of being a billionaire or a NASA astronaut, it’s pretty hard to go to space. But there are many companies making many promises that space travel is right around the corner.
The reality? It’s not.
However, there are space-travel substitutes that anyone can partake in, which gets you closer to seeing stars than ever before. For the pure adrenaline junky, there’s the infamous “vomit comet,” an almost out-of-this-world thrill ride that simulates zero gravity and major G-forces by flying a retro-fitted 727 in a series of parabolas. But for those prone to nausea, another new experience is the ultimate space feast for your eyes and ears. The Infinite, the world’s first-ever immersive space expedition based at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California, is nothing short of spectacular.
What’s an Immersive Space Expedition?
The Infinite pulled off an unbelievable feat. They convinced NASA to let them secure 3-D virtual reality (VR) cameras inside the International Space Station (ISS) to film hundreds of hours of footage in addition to securing cameras outside the space station to give people an unobstructed view of the solar system.
“We ended up filming five days outside the ISS, while we ended up filming 250 hours inside of the ISS, with the astronauts. So, by the end of a three-year cycle, NASA told us that this was the biggest media endeavor that has ever happened in space,” explained Félix Lajeunesse, the co-founder and creative director of Felix & Paul Studios, which produced the exhibit.
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Now, you’re probably familiar with immersive experiences. The Van Gogh exhibit popularized the idea of getting inside a painting using ethereal music and fluid walls, which spawned the immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit and the Immersive King Tut exhibit.
The Infinite, however, is nothing like these. It’s infinitely (pun intended) better. When you arrive at the facility, you’re given a VR headset and escorted to a cavernous space. Once you put on the headset, the experience begins, and you’re immediately transported to a life-size replica of the ISS, where you can explore at will and touch interactive orbs that launch videos for you to participate in and gawk at. There are so many orbs to touch that you’ll never have the same experience twice, and the 3-D environment the orbs open up to makes you feel like you’re truly there.
The producers of The Infinite wanted customers to have a unique experience but also send them through without feeling forced to interact with every single element.
“In terms of how we shape the content, you’re not supposed to be watching any of it in any specific order. You could decide to watch those hotspots that are geo-localized inside of the space station in any order that you want, which might be a completely different order than whoever came with you. And so, for that to work, but still give a sense that the narrative is advancing, we decided to go for an approach of four chapters. The first one is really being about adaptation, and what happens when you arrive in space. The second chapter is about the work and the science that you went to space to actually perform. The third chapter is once you’ve adapted and done the work, you realize that you’re there with fellow human beings, other astronauts, and they become your friends. And finally, once all of that has been achieved and accomplished, then we move to the final chapter, which is opening the doors for the next steps in human spaceflight, and how the ISS becomes this platform for deep space exploration.” Lajeunesse explained.
None of this does The Infinite justice, however. Because when you’re inside the virtual ISS, you feel it. The sounds of pressurized cabins ring in your ears, the actual views outside the station evoke jarring emotions, and the feeling of vertigo takes hold when you move to the final phase—the spacewalk outside the station itself.
The camera technology combined with a VR experience that doesn’t feel clunky is so good that it makes you forget yourself and where you are. Because it can be disorienting, especially for novice VR users, you end up moving really slowly and deliberately through the VR ISS, which mirrors how the astronauts are moving around you. It also helps to avoid running into other people. But the biggest takeaway of this experience is the emotional response. Seeing the Earth from space, feeling like there’s nothing under your feet, hearing the actual sounds, is nothing short of breathtaking.
“For me,” continued Lajeunesse. “It’s ultimately what this show is, reconciling the infinitely small, which is a one-to-one connection with a human, to the infinitely large, which is a connection to the entire sense of humanity.”
Like most things, you must experience it for yourself to truly understand what an undertaking this project is and how it makes you feel once you’re inside. But the fact that they can pull off on earth even an inkling of what it feels like to be in space, is a marvel in itself.
Now, if you could combine the adrenaline rush of the vomit comet with the surreal VR experience of The Infinite, you might truly believe you’re floating in space—and you won’t even need a billion dollars to make it happen.