Virtual Reality & the Cosmos: A Culture of Exploration

Today in 2014, Space is a 300 billion dollar worldwide industry. It inspires dreams and its acts of discovery empower us to undertake new activities and cross new frontiers. From Columbus to John Glenn, the emotional power of exploration has resonated with humanity through time and across cultures.

A Kickstarter campaign called VR2Space, Virtual Ride to Space, wants to give this power to all of us by launching a weather balloon with 12 HD video cameras to a 30km altitude thus creating a virtual ride to space viewable through the Oculus Rift. The Rift is a headset that displays a fully immersive 3D panoramic 360-degree viewing experience. By moving your head from side-to-side to see different perspectives in a 3-dimensional virtual environment, the Rift aims to revolutionize the way we consume media. The device itself has roots on Kickstarter and after its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook it plans to impact the world of video games, cinema, and photography and beyond.

A little more than 500 people in the history of our planet have traveled to Space and VR2Space wants to democratize an experience that has traditionally been tapped to advance geopolitical, economic, or militaristic purposes. There’s a hidden dimension to the role that space plays in our current culture, whereas the act of doing it perfectly is the measure of it going unnoticed. We don’t give one thought to the Cosmos when our GPS gets us where we want to go. After all, why should anyone care about advancing commercial space travel when our economy is in turmoil and American jobs are being shipped overseas?

Because investing in space is an investment in the future. In 1961 when Kennedy first proposed that we would walk on the moon, we did not yet have a vehicle that could launch into orbit without killing an astronaut. And yet the V-2 rocket, with its bullet shape and exaggerated fins, was an inspiration for 1960’s American culture. If you think back to iconic films from science fiction with rockets and blasters or Chevrolet automobiles, they all had fins. Where do you think those fins came from?

The 1960’s were the deadliest American decade since the 1860’s. In the bloodiest year of that decade, 1968, America launched the Tet Offensive. Additionally, both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Despite this, in December of 1968, Apollo 8 launched and it is the first time that anybody left Earth with a destination in mind. The goal, to do a figure-eight around the moon, was successful and with it a photograph titled Earth Rise over the Moon was captured that was then placed on every major American magazine. In essence, we went to the Moon and discovered Earth and it was the first time that people began to think about the Earth as a whole rather than an assembly of nations. How did that effect culture?

Seven months later, in 1969 we landed on the moon. In 1970, the comprehensive Clean Air Act was passed through congress. Earth Day was declared annually in March of 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. The organization Doctors Without Borders was then founded in 1971. The Clean Water Act, passed in 1971. The chemical known as DDT gets banned in 1972. The Endangered Species Act passes congress in 1972. The catalytic converter is implemented into automobiles in 1973 and unleaded gasoline is mandated in 1973.

All of this is done while there’s campus unrest, students shot at Kent State, America was still at war in Vietnam, the country politically as divided as ever and yet we found the time to start thinking about Earth. That is proof enough that space was operating on our culture and put a new perspective on what it meant to be alive in this world that we all share. Imagine now sending every child in the science classroom on a virtual ride to space and inspiring a new way for them to think and intellectualize about the world of tomorrow. The Rift will give us access to space and advances in space lead to innovations that trickle their way down the educational pipeline. It has been particularly true since the Industrial Revolution that technological innovation drives economies. Through both the Rift and VR2Space we can resurrect some of the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, creative, and economic ambitions of the 1960’s and 1970’s and begin to explore the world of tomorrow.