With virtual reality, the Infinite puts you on the International Space Station without leaving Earth – Houston Chronicle

A new virtual reality exhibit is providing Houstonians with a perspective just 251 people have experienced: Life on the International Space Station.

Wearing a VR headset, participants can eat breakfast with crew members, throw a football in microgravity and walk outside the station’s protection for unobstructed views of planet Earth.

“There is something inherently emotional about this experience that could only be delivered through virtual reality,” said Félix Lajeunesse, co-founder of Felix and Paul Studios. “I think an experience as powerful, as unique as that will never quite translate into a film. It has to be in a state of total immersion.”

The Infinite uses more than 200 hours of film taken aboard the International Space Station to create a free-roaming virtual reality exhibit at Silver Street Studios in Sawyer Yards. Wearing an Oculus VR headset, visitors walk through a replica of the International Space Station to experience different snippets of how astronauts live, work and play in microgravity.

The exhibit was created through a joint venture between Felix and Paul Studios, an immersive entertainment studio that uses virtual reality to tell stories, and the cultural and artistic hub PHI Studio. Both companies are based in Montreal, Canada, and they hosted The Infinite in their hometown from July 21 to Nov. 7.

It opened to the public in Houston for its American debut on Dec. 21 and will be in town through Feb. 20, though officials hope to extend the show in Houston through the spring before touring the U.S.

“It’s just the city that made the most sense,” said Éric Albert, CEO and general manager of PHI Studio. “It is NASA’s hometown. It is Space City.”

The experience begins with NASA astronaut Anne McClain describing how she felt as she prepared to launch to the International Space Station.

Then participants don their virtual reality headset. They can see themselves as an avatar. The avatars of friends and family are gold so they can be distinguished from the other avatars, which are blue.

Wearing the headsets, the new space station visitors walk toward a physical illuminated archway at Silver Street Studios. And as they cross beneath it, the floor disappears under their feet and is replaced by stars and the vastness of space.

Albert enjoys watching people’s reactions at this particular spot. Some people are afraid of falling while others are in a state of amazement and admiration. Kids tend to rush forward feeling completely comfortable (the experience is open to children 8 and older).

“The reactions are just priceless,” he said.

There is 6,750 square feet to roam, and luminescent spheres can be seen both inside and outside the space station. When a participant touches one of these spheres, he or she is taken to an experience filmed in that exact location of the real space station.

No two experiences are the same.

“When people discuss their experience afterward,” Albert said, “people will have lived and seen very different things.”

To capture this footage on the actual International Space Station, Felix and Paul Studios had to build special equipment that would work in microgravity. On Earth, for instance, heat created by a camera is pulled downward by gravity. But in space it would stay inside the electronics, so the cameras needed a system that would pull the heat away.

To make the cameras easier for astronauts to use, Felix and Paul Studios also created a capability that allowed teams on the ground to adjust the shutter speed and exposure in space.

Then the astronauts were asked to talk to the camera as if they were talking to a friend.

“It’s ultimately about making the viewers feel like they are one of them,” Lajeunesse said. “Those are particularly special and intimate moments when you really feel like the crew is talking to you.”

After the free-roaming experience, participants sit and watch a spacewalk conducted by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. This is experienced in virtual reality, but participants sit, as it’s meant to be a contemplative moment.

It’s the moment Albert hopes people will feel the overview effect, a phenomenon that some astronauts experience when seeing the fragile planet from above without borders dividing it into countries. This can change their perspective on the importance of protecting the planet and the realization that humanity is sharing the same challenges and opportunities, regardless of nationality.

“If we can recreate even just a fraction of this emotion, we will have achieved our goal,” Albert said. “And our goal really is to make people aware of the planet that we live on. It’s the only one we have.”

The footage inside the space station was filmed from January 2019 through early May 2021. The exterior footage was captured in August and September of this year by attaching a space-hardened camera to the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic arm.

After the spacewalk, visitors take off their headsets and walk through a few final art exhibits. Most people will spend an hour at The Infinite.

Tickets range from $30 to $55, depending on the time and the day of the week. It is accessible to people who use a wheelchair (though no motorized wheelchairs are allowed), and the vast majority of participants do not experience motion sickness. Comfortable shoes are recommended; high heels and backpacks are not allowed.

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Source: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/space/article/With-virtual-reality-the-Infinite-puts-you-on-16734218.php

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