Culture / Newsy

Houston’s Super Bowl Brings a Virtual Reality Rocket Ship Thrill Ride to Discovery Green — and It’s Free

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BY // 11.16.16

When Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl several years ago, it used a zip line over downtown to give fans a cheap thrill. Houston’s Super Bowl will have a virtual reality rocket ship thrill ride that takes fans to Mars and plunges them back to earth with a roller coaster-worthy drop.

Win, Houston?

Was there really ever any doubt? The NFL’s dream is to raise the bar at every Super Bowl — and Houston’s Super Bowl Host Committee seems more than poised to make that vision a reality. With that in mind, Super Bowl LI’s 10-day fan festival at Discovery Green will be headlined by a ride that melds virtual reality and amusement park level thrills on a scale never seen before.

“This is Super Bowl 51 — the Super Bowl of the future in the city of the future,” Host Committee CEO and president Sallie Sargent said in revealing the ride Wednesday afternoon in a fancy presentation in the middle of the SpaceCom conference at George R. Brown Convention Center.

Future Flight will be more than a giant Super Bowl week ride in the middle of Discovery Green.
Future Flight will be more than a giant Super Bowl week ride in the middle of Discovery Green.

The attraction dubbed Future Flight will tower over Discovery Green and all the mega star concerts held there Super Bowl week. There is a near life size rocket ship model, the tower with the ride itself and a raised platform. Riders will put on virtual reality glasses and be strapped into an contraption that looks something like an amusement park drop tower. They’ll then be thrust into a virtual reality space flight to Mars, which includes takeoff, exploration of the red planet (which includes actual footage of Mars rather than still photos) and a descent back to earth which has riders finishing up by coming through the roof of NRG Stadium and landing on the 50-yard line just as the Super Bowl is about to begin.

With virtual reality technology better than ever — and NASA heavily involved — these will be memorable trips.

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The ride will be free from Jan. 28 through Feb. 5 at the fan fest, but there is a catch. More than a million people are expected to visit Discovery Green during Super Bowl week, but there will only be several thousand slots for Future Flight each day. How you sign up — or line up — to get one of those slots will be determined at a later date.

The attraction will also include vehicles that will be used in space. “If you’ve seen the movie The Martian, you’ll recognize a lot of this stuff,” Duncan Kennedy tells PaperCity. Kennedy is the VP of Experience Design at Ideas, the company that will make the ride a reality.

Much of Ideas’ development team comes from Disney — and they bring that massive amusement park level experience. When you worked on things for The Magic Kingdom, putting a rocket ship in the middle of downtown Houston during Super Bowl week does not seem like such an overwhelming task.

Still, in many ways this will be a pioneering attraction — one that raises the bar for all other Super Bowls and major events in general. “This is the first time virtual reality’s been married with a thrill ride to this degree,” Kennedy says.

Riders will not be getting a 3D or even IMAX movie experience. This will be full virtual reality. “Anywhere you look, you’ll be part of this world,” Kennedy says. “It will feel like you’re on Mars.”

Without the whole clumsy space suit thing of course. Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the director of the NASA Johnson Space Center and a former astronaut herself, stood front and center at the announcement reveal. For Ochoa and NASA, this Super Bowl moment represents a huge opportunity to excite entire generations about manned missions to Mars. Ochoa says things are on track for those missions to happen in the 2030s. “This is an exclusive peek at new technology,” she notes.

“The reality of Mars in the 2030s is that the first astronaut who steps on Mars is going to be in middle school right now,” Kennedy says, “or maybe even elementary school.”

That astronaut even might end up being a kid who rode Future Flight during Houston Super Bowl week.

While Super Bowl 50 in the Santa Clara and San Francisco Bay area last February centered on the NFL looking back at its past, Houston’s Super Bowl is designed to look to the future. “Nothing says future like deep space exploration,” Sargent says.

Houston’s Super Bowl wants to guarantee that it is thrilling off the field — no matter what happens in the big game itself. Blast off?

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