Science Museum / Alchemy VR
When Tim Peake returned from the International Space Station (ISS) in June 2016 he was carried by the Soyuz TMA-19M space capsule. He was crammed into the capsule with two other astronauts for the seven-hour journey back to Earth.
Travelling back to Earth in the Russian-built capsule is an experience only a handful of humans have had. Until now.
The Science Museum has recreated Peake's return journey to solid ground, in collaboration with Alchemy VR. The first-person VR experience, Space Descent VR, sees the wearer of a headset sit next to a virtual Peake during a 12-minute descent to Earth.
In the Science Museum's first permanent VR exhibit, the experience of Peake's descent sees the person in the VR world travel 400km from the ISS, slow from a speed of 25,000km per hour, and land in the Kazakhstan desert. While travelling back to Earth the VR footage allows the wearer, who is placed in the pilot's seat, to look around the cramped space capsule in 360-degrees.
Peake, who has already tried Space Descent VR, says it is "close" to the real experience. "It really is breathtaking – and that comes from someone who has spent an awful lot of time using VR systems while training for my first mission," the British astronaut said in a statement. Dubbed Space Descent VR the experience is only available to those visiting the Science Museum.
In January 2017 Peake, who was the first British astronaut to stay on the ISS, said he would be returning to space in the future. The astronaut has agreed, with the European Space Agency (ESA), to return to the ISS. ESA has committed to sending astronauts to the space station until at least 2024.
The Soyuz TMA-19M capsule that delivered Peake to the Earth's surface is also on display at the Science Museum, after it waspurchased as part of the UK's national space technology collection.
Jody Kingzett / Science Museum
While the Space Descent VR is the first VR exhibition at the Science Museum, it is only one of a number of VR apps created to simulate space flight.
London-based VR studio Rewind has previously created a 15-minute experience where it is possible to float 402 kilometres above Earth. Based on Peake's training programme, the VR film sees the headset wearer start in the Airlock of the ISS, traversing the space station's exterior, before using the HTC Vive's controllers to fix a broken radiator.
Elsewhere, an experimental 'hypersuit' – where the person experiencing VR lies flat on a metal surface – allows you to fly through space.
Test: WIRED tries the Science Museum's Space Descent VR
The 12 minute VR experience starts floating outside the International Space Station. With 360 degree views possible throughout the viewer is able to look at at all angles of the ISS while slowly being guided to the Russian-made Soyuz module that elegantly hangs from the space structure.
Once inside the small space vehicle you're transformed into an astronaut and take a pilot's eye view of the journey to Earth. Sat in the middle of three seats – the other two are unfortunately – you're able to look around the entire capsule. Buttons, levers, screens, straps and more line the Soyuz capsule with everything being designed and modelled on the real-world versions of the module.
The VR film, which costs £7.00 per person, is viewed through a Samsung Galaxy 7 and the firm's Gear headset. Up to 20 people can take experience the VR at once. Created by Alchemy VR andAtlantic Productions, the rendering of the footage is of a high quality and the footage is of a high grade.
Anthony Geffen, the CEO of Alchemy says, the footage took 100 computers a month to render and was originally produced at 5K quality – although the phone is not able to display video at that definition. Although, the VR is of high quality it would have been ideal for the experience to be created for the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, where the wearer would be able to control the landing with hand-controllers.
After a few seconds of acclimatising to the Soyuz capsule and seeing pens and notebooks floating in zero gravity, Tim Peakeinterrupts. Upon entering the Science Museum, the actual capsule Peake used to travel to and from the ISS can be peered into – making this as close to going inside it as you will get. In VR, theEuropean Space Agency astronaut is displayed on one of two screens in the Soyuz and acts as a guide for the descent to Earth. During the next eight to 10 minutes, Peake talks the VR wearer through the undocking process, how the craft's rockets work and the bumpy landing.
At each stage of the journey to Earth's surface Peake, in a calm and educational manner, describes the journey. As the sparks and flames appear outside the Soyuz's windows he explains the process of re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
The creation of the VR footage has been painstaking completed with attention to detail in every button and element of the final output. When the spacecraft turns on its thrusters and lands the entire VR capsule moves.