Simulation-based virtual reality (VR) has come a long way since it was first developed in the 1970s. Invented for medical, military, and space training purposes, virtual reality has made its way into the homes of millions of people for a variety of consumer applications; an estimated 30 million augmented reality (AR) and VR headsets are sold yearly.
Well, it’s awesome, for starters.
Virtual reality allows people to experience anything in the galaxy from the comfort of their own living rooms, which is very convenient for the folks with eyes fixed toward the stars.
More than 171 million people regularly use VR technology for entertainment and educational purposes today, and a significant number of experiences have been developed for the space-loving cohort of human being.
Computer artist David Em produced the first navigable virtual worlds at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California between 1977-1984. Today, deeply immersive, space-themed VR experiences are among the most popular types currently available. Here are some of the best experiences based on user reviews.
The following article will go through all the best space-themed virtual reality experiences; some require going to one of the many awesome space museums around the world, and some of which can be experienced at home.
Astronaut Training Experience® (ATX)
The Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) at Kennedy Space Center will bring you as close as possible (without leaving Earth) to training, living, and working on the Red Planet. It is a companion to the Mars Base 1 program at the same location.
Practice docking skills, navigate the Martian terrain, and perform a spacewalk! Using immersive simulation technology, you can solve real-world problems using authentic NASA science.
Kennedy Space Center is on Merritt Island, Florida. Designed for those aged ten or older, anyone under 17 must have a paying adult companion.
Discovering Space 2
Transport yourself to anywhere in the solar system. Experience the remoteness of deep space by following one of the available guided tours or making up your own. Fly down to each planet to get an up-close-and-personal experience of the surface.
The Discovering Space 2 VR experience includes exploration, sightseeing, discovery, and relaxation – no explosions, shooting, or other action, but the graphics and atmosphere are top-notch.
For Meta Rift and Rift S (formerly Oculus), and Oculus Remote.
MiGFLug Edge of Space
Ride along on a flight into the stratosphere in a real MiG-29 fighter jet! You will soar to the highest altitudes that anyone except astronauts can reach. In MiGFlug Edge of Space, top speeds reach nearly twice the speed of sound.
This VR experience, which lasts 13 minutes, was filmed in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, during a MiGFLug Edge of Space flight. The 360-degree camera was attached to the MiG-29 Fulcrum’s vertical stabilizer.
For Meta/Oculus and SteamVR headsets.
Millions of people have dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but only about 500 have ever been to space.
Mission: ISS, the Emmy-nominated, true-to-life simulation for the Meta Rift and Rift S, takes you into orbit aboard the International Space Station. Learn how astronauts move and work when in zero gravity.
Real astronauts guide you through archival video clips as you take a spacewalk, dock a space capsule, and perform various mission-critical tasks.
Mission: ISS was created by collaborating with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.
NASA Space Launch System (SLS)
In collaboration with Media Fusion, NASA has created a new VR software application for Meta Rift that lets users experience the space agency’s massive new rocket, the SLS. It’s available for free download from NASA.
The SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1, will launch a crewless Orion spacecraft 40,000 miles beyond the Moon and then back to earth over three weeks. SLS will also be used in NASA’s Artemis program to land a man and woman on the Moon in 2024.
The app provides several experiences. In one, the user stands in the rocket’s shadow for a chest-rumbling view of a launch. Another provides a front-row seat to the cockpit during SLS pre-launch activities. Users also get to fulfill the role of an astronaut inside an Orion spacecraft.
You’ll find much of the Smithsonian’s digitized space collection, including the space shuttle Discovery and the Apollo 11 command module. France’s Laboratoire de Planetologie et Geodynamique has posted various moonscapes and Mars surface images.
SpaceEngine is an immersive, interactive planetarium where the sky is not the limit. This virtual universe is billions of light-years across and contains trillions of planetary systems. You can explore Earth’s neighboring planets or choose a distant solar system and find yourself floating in unfamiliar space within seconds.
Based on actual astronomical data and scientific knowledge, SpaceEngine depicts the universe as thought by modern science to exist. Natural celestial objects are present, including the planets and moons of our solar system, millions of stars, newly discovered exoplanets, and thousands of currently known galaxies.
Travel from star to star and galaxy to galaxy, landing on any moon, asteroid, or planet. Transitions are entirely seamless. Observe any celestial phenomena you please – even alter the speed of time. Half the fun is clicking on stars and not knowing what you’ll find until you get there.
Available as an early access game from Steam for the PC, Meta Rift, and HTC Vive.
Space Explorers: The ISS Experience
This four-part experience immerses you in life aboard the International Space Station (ISS), including the first spacewalk ever filmed in ultra-high-resolution. In the final episode, you’ll join the astronauts on a spacewalk, floating in space around the ship as they carry out tasks.
Developed in partnership with Time Studios, Space Explorers: The ISS Experience took two years to film and represents the most significant production filmed in space.
For Meta Quest and Meta Quest2 (formerly Oculus Quest).
Contrary to popular belief, space is not silent. Spheres combines a haunting soundtrack with stunning visuals in an immersive spectacle fusing art with science.
In Chapter I: Chorus of the Cosmos, Planet Earth sings. Chapter II: Songs of Spacetime takes you into the heart of a black hole to uncover gravitational waves. Chapter III: Pale Blue Dot explores the Big Bang and the edge of the cosmos.
Spheres supports touch control for Meta Quest and Meta Quest 2.
The Infinite is a sprawling, multi-sensory, 12,500-square-foot traveling exhibition that creates an almost-too-real feeling of being in outer space. It incorporates 200 hours of virtual reality scenes shot over nearly three years, documenting the lives of eight international astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS).
Participants will enjoy a self-directed experience aboard the ISS itself. Over 60 minutes, they can engage with physical objects, multimedia art, virtual reality, soundscapes, and light design. Even the scent of a forest is meant to trigger memories of stargazing while lying on the grass.
Footage includes the first-ever cinematic spacewalk captured in 3-D and the 360-degree virtual reality footage shot outside the ISS in September 2021. The emotional return to “home base” includes an installation by famed visual artist Ryoji Ikeda that features an LED ceiling and mirrored floor.
The Infinite is an extension of the award-winning series Space Explorers: The ISS Experience. After a four-month run in Montreal and a similar run in Houston, the exhibition will be in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, through September 5, 2022.
Universe Sandbox is a space simulator that merges gravity, collision, climate, and material interactions to reveal the fragility of our planet and the beauty of our universe.
Using physics and Newtonian mechanics, you can simulate gravity at almost any speed – no supercomputer required. Create epic, mind-blowing collisions of stars and planets. Create your solar systems with stars, planets, moons, rings, comets, and black holes.
You’ll be able to model the Earth’s climate by observing how the tilt of our planet changes the seasons and makes sea ice grow and recede. Watch what happens when you move the Earth far enough from the Sun to freeze the entire world.
Make a star evolve into a supernova by increasing its age or mass. Ride along with the Juno and New Horizons spacecraft. View a total solar eclipse. Build planets out of hydrogen, rock, iron, and water.
And so much more. Stellar flares. Pulsars. Fly around your simulations. Plus, Universe Sandbox supports over 20 languages.
For Windows Mixed Reality, HTC Vive, Meta Rift+Touch (formerly Oculus). Download from Steam.
Final Thoughts: Additional VR Gaming
Virtual reality is perhaps the most convenient way to immerse yourself in what it’s like to be in space or another planet, and the level of production and graphic quality has increased tremendously in the past few years.
As virtual reality grows in popularity (and more space-minded folks get into the industry), we can only expect space-themed virtual reality experiences to become even better. For example, the Quest VR headset device (recently purchased from Oculus by Meta, formerly known as Facebook) is predicted to sell 5.6 million units annually by itself by 2025– that’s potentially millions more space-interested folks diving into the virtual reality world.
However, virtual reality takes the space-genre even further when it comes to playable video games. Here are 14 more space-genre VR games considered among the best by Meta (formerly Oculus), Steam, and PlayStation users:
- Star Wars Squadrons
- End Space
- Space Pirate Trainer
- Lone Echo
- Elite Dangerous
- Star Trek: Bridge Crew
- Echo Arena
- Apollo 11
- No Man’s Sky
- Shuttle Commander
- Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge
- Space Explorer VR
- Trover Saves the Universe
- Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: VR Mission
When You Want More Than VR…
The Zero-G Experience®
What’s better than VR weightlessness in space? Experiencing true weightlessness here on Earth, of course! Each Zero-G Experience® includes 15 periods of weightlessness (parabolas) over five hours aboard our specially modified Boeing 727, a Zero-G flight suit and other merchandise, participation certificate, photos, and videos!
Available on scheduled dates at various locations across the U.S. Book your flight today or purchase a gift card.