A resupply mission to the International Space Station is planned for next week, which will include a special delivery for Andreas Mogensen in the shape of a Vive Focus 3 VR headset intended to help the Danish astronaut cope with the stress of working in space.
Working on the International Space Station can be a tough gig, where “astronauts live in a noisy, clinical set of rooms without ‘natural’ light where they are surrounded by the constant hum of machines, screens, and electronic devices. Privacy is limited, sleeping spaces are cramped, and meals can include freeze-dried food and recycled water.”
The missions can last for months, the conditions are fairly cramped and crew members are relatively isolated and can be pretty stressed. Getting away from it all can be problematic if you need to be always primed for quick action should an alarm sound.
That’s where virtual reality could help, and HTC, XRHealth and Nord-Space Aps have partnered on a mental health mission to the ISS.
“Astronauts are essentially isolated during their missions for months and years at a time and are confined to small spaces with limited contact with friends and family,” said Per Lundahl Thomsen, Chief Technology Officer at Nord-Space Aps. “Creating a virtual platform that addresses their mental health needs while in isolation is imperative for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle when they return. We partnered with companies that provide the most advanced technologies that could be adapted for space to provide the most beneficial experience for our astronauts.”
The partnership worked to address tracking and orientation issues encountered by previous attempts to use VR headsets in a microgravity environment, where drifting, rolling and jittery content not only made the headsets unstable, but also led to motion sickness.
The solution involved using the handheld controller as an anchor point for spatial tracking. The power source of the modified Vive Focus 3 was also tweaked to better suit the mission.
For the VR therapy trial, ISS Commander Andreas Mogensen has chosen a number of immersive virtual creations designed to serve “as powerful tools for achieving various clinical goals in mental health.” These include standing on a hill while watching a captivating sunset, swimming with dolphins, tackling a rugged mountain path in Europe and exploring wetlands while accompanied by birdsong.
The Vive Focus 3 headset and controllers are scheduled to launch with the SpaceX CRS-29 resupply mission to the ISS on November 7.