When Melbourne game developer Emre Deniz posted some screenshots of his Virtual Reality project Earthlight to Reddit, he was just hoping to get some feedback from fellow space and gaming nerds.
He didn’t expect the post would totally blow the community away, and have engineers at NASA come knocking.
“In the morning I had contact from three different NASA laboratories,” Emre told Hack.
I was basically shaking with anxiety. It’s not everyday that you get private messages from NASA.
“They were really eager to find out about the work we were doing.”
Earthlight is an incredibly lifelike and immersive simulation of space, created by Emre’s gaming company Opaque Media. It’s a game that’s played in virtual reality, using a headset like this one that Hack space cadet / reporter Jo Lauder tried out.
The interest the project received on Reddit has led the team to collaborating with NASA on the game; Opaque has been conducting tests at NASA’s Hybrid Reality Lab to develop Earthlight as a training tool for the next generation of NASA astronauts and engineers.
In other words: a Melbourne-based project built on a whim is preparing real-life astronauts for their journeys in space.
“As a team we sat down and said, what could we build?" Emre says.
We built the International Space Station in VR because that’s apparently what you do when you get bored. That’s how Earthlight started.
“I wouldn’t describe it as some sort of grand vision, it started off as a tech demo, and everybody freaked out. We then realised we had the opportunity to take people to space in VR.”
Emre says NASA does have its own simulation training systems for astronauts, but Earthlight will provide an easier, more accessible alternative for training.
Emre Deniz playing Earthlight on a gravity offload system at NASA.
“It takes several hours for a NASA astronaut candidate to have a dive. It’s an undertaking that involves about 40 to 50 people at least.
“All they’re trying to do at this point is to get the astronaut to gain a level of familiarity. In vr you end up developing some skills and a sense of navigation in this environment that doesn’t involve a 40 person team.”
Aside from helping space cadets find their feet, part of Earthlight's goal is to bring an authentic, accessible space experience to the people - providing the most authentic outer-space experience while keeping two feet on planet earth.
It’s difficult to describe how immersive, lifelike and breathtaking Earthlight is on paper; even the epic pictures don’t really do any VR experience justice.
But listening to how it works gives you a better idea. Hear Jo Lauder's first space walk experience below.