art: excellent VR experience of the ISS

THE INFINITE is one of the best VR exhibitions I’ve experienced (and I’m lucky to have strapped into Char Davies’ unbelievably great Osmose and the PHI Centre’s Horizons VR greatest hits exhibition, and even the early 1991 Dactyl Nightmare VR game ).

People wearing VR headsets wandering around the International Space Station in virtual reality in THE INFINITE exhibition.
Trust me, these people are enjoying an amazing experience in space station space.

These people are wandering in and around the International Space Station, reaching out to various glowing orbs that trigger brief immersive videos filmed at that location of the actual astronauts working and talking. The way the VR presents the other patrons as shimmering volumes so you see but don’t see them, and the floating video cameras that suggest where to look are so well-done. Then you watch a spacewalk in VR and it’s genuinely tense and eerie like the movie “Gravity” to watch people working in free-fall around the Earth at 7.66 km/s (17,000 miles per hour): one slip and they’ll drift away beyond rescue. Then in real life you enjoy some immersive middling artworks. The exhibit seems to be on tour, so if you get a chance to see it, GO! I think it would be pretty good to just see it at home alone with a VR headset, moving between each glowing orb with a controller; but the experience of walking around with another disembodied person and counting down “3-2-1 touch” to simultaneously view each VR movie is quite special.

The International Space Station

the International Space Station in sunlight with the curved blue surface of the Earth behind it
International Space Station, by NASA/crew of STS-132 as it undocked

The ISS is one of the singular achievements of humanity. As Peter Schjeldahl (RIP) wrote in the New Yorker about Richard Serra’s triumphs of metal sculpture, “Serra conserves a battered modernist confidence in the collective genius of experts, a priestly class that confers meaning and direction on society.” In this case, engineering experts built a technology stack with extraordinary care and dedication (and ~$100 billion) that lofted 420,000 kilograms of advanced stuff into low Earth orbit so a handful of people can live and work 400 km (250 miles) above the Earth. Humanity can do great things.

Daydreamed not

When I bought my Pixel 3 I was happy to spring for Google’s $79 Daydream View headset and controller phone accessory. I like videogames, I’ve enjoyed most of the VR experiences I’ve seen outside the house. But even though I enjoyed tossing things into a lake and exploring the Taj Mahal, I only ever used it twice. Every time I read about a cool VR artwork or experience I meant to take it off the shelf, recharge the Daydream headset and controller, put my phone in the headset and strap it on my head, calibrate it, then enjoy an immersive world. But I didn’t, and of course Google canceled it.

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