I stand on the International Space Station in front of an astronaut who throws a ball in front of me. Instead of going over my shoulder, the ball goes through me – in virtual reality (VR), the ball and the space station only exist in my glasses.
“Space Explorers: THE INFINITE,” an interactive exhibit in Richmond, California, lets attendees experience the International Space Station (ISS) in virtual reality. It also features an immersive art exhibit by Ryoji Ikeda, “The Universe within the Universe.” The experience lasts about an hour in total, with 35 minutes spent in “the space,” after which participants are allowed to walk around the Ikeda art exhibit.
The VR and art parts of the exhibit were amazing; while the experience was rough around the edges at times, the positives of the exhibit far outnumbered the negatives. The virtual reality tour of the ISS was incredibly entertaining and educational, and Ikeda’s art installation, which incorporated moving lights and audio, was equally captivating.
The VR component of the exhibit takes place in a large room with a simple three-dimensional model of the ISS, in front of a backdrop of stars. Glowing orbs float throughout the room and, when touched, expand to engulf the viewer in various types of immersive displays. There are far more orbs than there is time to squeeze them, so most participants come away with their own unique experience. It’s also possible to coordinate with friends and grab the same orb: in the VR world, the avatars of people in your party, strangers, and staff are assigned different colors, so it’s easy to match them. differentiate.
Some of my favorite orbs place us inside the ISS with astronauts on board. All of the images were taken on the ISS, so the experience was incredibly realistic. The orbs held information about the history of space exploration or the lives of astronauts aboard the ISS, and I found these mini exhibits incredibly fun to learn about. In other cases, the orbs displayed views of space from the ISS.
On average, these orbs are more immersive than the rest of the VR exhibit, as their model of the ISS lacks realistic detail. Walking around outside the orbs was enjoyable but nowhere near as impressive or immersive as the experience in the orbs.
Still, deciding which orb to select was exciting, as there was no indication of what each orb contained. The anticipation of the orb expanding and then starting to display its own mini exhibit was incredible.
In addition, small objects such as a ball or a watch appear randomly, allowing participants to “grab” the objects and hit them as if they were weightless. Sometimes my friend and I could see the same objects, and we had a lot of fun playing VR-catch with them. However, sometimes one of us saw an object that the other didn’t, which caused a bit of frustration as one of us kept looking for an object that wasn’t there.
From the start, the exhibition was set up to immerse viewers. The lobby had a minimalist aesthetic, with lots of glowing lights and sleek black walls, which got me excited about the experience even before I put on my VR glasses. Once past the lobby, even the way the VR glasses were stored added to the immersive vibe. I gasped audibly when I saw the glasses lined up in their glowing tubes.
One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was at the end when we were sitting in a chair and could see the earth rising in front of us. It was a breathtaking and impressive sight; from our seats, the earth was huge, taking up most of our field of vision. Our view of earth was a perfect reflection of what it would have looked like from the ISS, and this view is not one I will soon forget.
I was also very impressed that I didn’t feel nauseous during the experience. I tend to feel sick after being in VR for more than 15 minutes, but that was not the case in this exhibit although it took more than twice as long. Upon entering the exhibit, one of the staff mentioned that we would be using a newer version of the Oculus headsets, which I think helped me feel less nauseous. The exhibit also offers non-VR options in case attendees feel too nauseous to continue.
At this point in the exhibit, a message popped up in front of me telling me that my headset had a low battery, which interrupted my immersion a bit. Luckily one of the staff members came and quickly resolved the issue for me, allowing me to finish without any issues. All of the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly, and very enthusiastic about the exhibit.
The Ikeda art installation was a great end to the exhibit. After going to space, I wasn’t quite ready to get back into the real world yet, so I loved taking the time to explore the Ikeda exhibit. “The Universe Within the Universe,” described as “an ode to the hidden mysteries of the cosmos,” emulates the feeling of weightlessness in space through a mirrored hallway filled with moving lights and a soundtrack. Using both art and virtual reality to explore the experience of space from different angles was effective, and the two media complemented each other well. The moving lights were mesmerizing to watch, and walking through the Hall of Mirrors while the exhibit soundtrack played was a pleasant experience as well.
From the ISS to the Hall of Mirrors, every element of the experience was captivating, allowing for a unique and unforgettable exhibit.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes thoughts, opinions, and subjective criticism.
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