Culture / Entertainment

Houston’s Most Spacey Trip — The Infinite Returns With an Even Better Out of This World VR Experience

Stepping Into the Void

BY // 05.13.24

The Infinite, the virtual reality experience that takes you on a simulated trip to the International Space Station, first made its United States debut in Houston in 2021. Now the latest iteration of the virtual trip — dubbed Space Explorers: The Infinite — just touched down in Space City. It’s time to take another step aboard the Sawyer Yards launch pad to take another zero gravity walk through this astounding virtual reality experience.

Infinite’s opening night offered up some prime astronaut star gazing, with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir the guest of honor. As flight engineer on the ISS Expedition 61 and 62, Meir acts as a protagonist in the Infinite experience, but she along with the rest of the expedition crew were also instrumental in capturing VR footage that lies at the heart of The Infinite. Meir and some of the principals involved in the project, including Felix & Paul Studios co-CEOs Éric Albert and Felix Lajeunesse, were in on hand to welcome everyone and speak to the uniqueness of the largest media project ever made in space.

“The reason this is so exciting for me is that this is the first time – I think the closest step I’ve ever seen – to enabling us to to share the privilege and extreme opportunity that we are so fortunate to have with all of you,” Meir says. “It will bring you there.

“Get ready to really be transported.”

The Infinite Experience

The journey into The Infinite begins in a kind of space age, silver-walled waiting room, where a narrator gives historic perspective on humanities relationship with the light of the earth’s sun. This section also helps space out (pun intended) the explorers so you won’t be running into each other later on.

Once the doors open, you are met by guides who gave everyone a VR orientation and issue the state-of-the-art-headsets. Unlike chair-bound VR experiences, The Infinite encourages roaming within a set space. Once the guide activated my headset, I saw an a star-filled space. One rather niffy feature of the tech is that while my experience was individualized, I was visually linked to other members of my party, seeing them as a glowing gold light while other people around me glowed in blue. 

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And then I was off, walking on a path of stars towards the International Space Station. Of the many aspects of Space Explorers that makes it unique is the layering of virtual realities. The first layer reminded me of an animated, gaming VR experience. I saw an outline version of the ISS that allowed me to walk through its outer and inner walls. The real objective in this layered virtual reality is to “touch” a series of glowing orbs spread throughout the station and beyond.

I chose an orb, swiped my hand through it, and my vision turned black for a second. Then suddenly I found myself within a cinematically ultra-realistic version of the ISS with a 360 degree, 3D view of everything inside the space station, including astronauts going about their day/nights in orbit.

Space Explorers gives an Infinite view of Earth.
Space Explorers gives an Infinite view of Earth.

The Infinite merges the real rocket and space science of the ISS with the most cutting edge media and cinematography technology. Yet experiencing it for myself revealed it is also a bit like voyaging into a science fiction realm. One moment I walked through an very astounding, yet still obviously animated, virtual environment. The next, it felt like I had been beamed directly onto the ISS.

Yes, I bodily still felt Earth’s gravity. But with those stunning 3D, 360 degree visuals, my mind went along for the ride and I almost believed I was floating in space.  

Each orb holds a filmed vignette chronicling  life on the ISS in all its majesty and mundaneness, from the astronauts preparing for space walk to fixing the station toilet. And I was right there in the zero gravity thick of it. The designers have divided this section of the VR experience into multiple chapters, with each chapter bringing a new set of orbs, representing a new collection of ISS stories.

This makes it impossible to see all the filmed stories in one trip. In fact, I only remembered one of the films from experiencing The Infinite in 2021 during that Houston debut.

State of the art VR headsets you on a space journey into the Infinite.
State of the art VR headsets you on a space journey into the Infinite. 

After my time wandering through the ISS and popping in and out of these astronaut moments inside the station, the system gently herded me through a virtual space door and into an assigned seat for the next VR visions, an unobstructed view of the Earth from outside the ISS. This section of the experience allowed me to simply sit back and gaze at earth from above watching the sunrise and set over the course of minutes.

I did realize then I could never be an astronaut for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that I would never get any work done, being caught up in staring into space and onto the Earth all day instead. 

The VR experience does eventually end, but the journey is not over, as international acclaimed artist Ryoji Ikeda’s trippy immersive multimedia artwork The Universe Within the Universe awaits. Since it’s impossible to take a selfie during a VR experience, for those itching to mark their Space Explorers journey on social media, The Universe Within gives lots of brilliant light opportunities to do so. My exploration concluded with a brand new section of The Infinite, a small but dedicated video and photography gallery focused on the Artemis I launch, the first step towards taking the United States back to the moon and onto Mars. 

Having experienced The Infinite in 2021, I knew what to expect, but all the components especially the visions of the Earth beneath me felt just as new and revelatory as the first time. Take it from astronaut Jessica Meir: It will bring you there. 

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