‘Take a trip into orbit and experience life on board the International Space Station! In this Emmy-nominated simulation, learn how to move and work in zero-gravity using the Gear VR controller. Dock a space capsule, take a spacewalk, and let real NASA astronauts guide you on the ISS through informative videos and images.’
I’m still playing around with this, especially the gravity which I can see could put a lot of people off (quite) quickly. However, it’s an experience to try again, as there’s a lot to enjoy, not least the fact that the whole station is yours to rummage around in. Yes, it does feel like you’re up in space. And space enthusiasts will find the whole experience just fascinating. I’m hoping the control aspect will get easier, because in all other ways this is brilliant VR.
You might have seen this app and hesitated before tapping into it. Cool. Space… ISS… NASA… Ok, but is it… fun? Well, read on, for despite being a scientific tour of the international space station it manages to provide enough of the VR ‘wow’ effect in this ‘visit’ to outer space… and being able to walk and float about too.
This is where Virtual Reality as a medium walks that line, teetering dangerously between captivating our attention (through structured challenges or experiences etc), to suddenly seeming dull and losing us to the vacuum (of simple frustration). After all, the exit button to the Home Screen is only a button-hold away, or a headset-lifting manoeuvre.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no Gravity movie tie-in or the very decent, buckled-up The Missed Spaceflight ride (short and sweet). However, the ISS is yours to explore here, and the focus is on being a real astronaut for a while. This comes with its own weight of authenticity including wrestling for a bit with the annoyance and limitation that is weightlessness. But this is the only frustrating thing you’ll need to tackle; getting to grips with navigating and movement.
The Perfect Scientific Field Trip
Beyond this, Mission: ISS (youtube) is pretty essential, especially for any would-be scientist or astronaut. There’s a lot to do and it’s all free. For the layman, discovering the reality of being up in space is still fascinating, as is much of the information and sensations to discover. Scientific field trips will never be the same, when schools can afford enough headsets to go around. The sensation of being inside one (of today’s standards at any rate) shares a certain kinship with that of a space suit, so drifting outside the ISS, feels pretty fitting.
There are limitations, and let’s hope the developers will continue to improve things. The sense of danger diminishes, especially after five minutes on a space walk. The scale and spectacle of space itself with our sun, the stars, and the presence of earth far below is amazing at first but also diminishes with its lack of change or rotation.
It could benefit from a fun mode where an alien lands on one of the solar panels and you have to scrape it off and cast it down into the fiery atmosphere (only joking). But with such a great framework, a little more tension could be interwoven. Maybe a fellow astronaut could need rescuing outside or something. And how about multiplayer mode, with tasks where you’d need to work with someone to maintain the station etc.?
They’ll be plenty more simulations of space emerging, but for now I hope this app does well, for it’s fun and its educational properties are highly worthwhile.
I’ve spent a couple of sessions with it, and I do plan to re-visit it, but only if it updates and with more ‘wow’ factor to draw me back there as I feel I’ve done enough of station exploring and space walking antics for now, without any story or extra purpose.
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