SFU’s Earthgazing VR Experience Can Help Astronauts Deal with Isolation
SFU’s Earthgazing VR Experience

SFU’s Earthgazing VR Experience Can Help Astronauts Deal with Isolation

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Researchers at Simon Fraser University’s iSpace Lab have designed a virtual reality experience called ‘Earthgazing’ to help astronauts deal with isolation and confinement. It is being launched in Moscow as a part of SIRIUS (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) 2021.

The Earthgazing experience takes the participants on a meditative journey that enables them to “reflect on their connection to Earth and humanity.” It showcases inspirational views of nature and space to instill the feeling of awe and connection.

The SFU lab has partnered with a team of German researchers to study the impact of virtual reality on the ability of crew members to cope with isolation and sensory deprivation. VR technology can potentially support the mental wellbeing of the crew and help combat the adverse psychological effects of space travel.

“Dealing with loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has often been a very difficult experience, so this research is relevant not only for space exploration but the general public as well,” said SFU PhD student Katerina Stepanova, who is part of a team led by Professor Bernhard Riecke of SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology.

This research builds further on the output of previous work targeted at immersing people in the world of space travel without physically being present in space. It uses the ‘overview effect,’ a fantastic experience shared by many astronauts leading to a drastic shift in perspective.

“When witnessing the overwhelming beauty of Earth, astronauts also come to realize the fragility of our home planet and the interconnectedness of all life,” explained Stepanova. “They return to Earth with a renewed sense of connection and responsibility for our environment.”

The team recently showcased the virtual Earthgazing experience at Vancouver’s V-Unframed Festival.

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