Of the millions who dream of being an astronaut as a child, only a tiny few ever make it into space. But Space Explorers: THE INFINITE, the virtual reality experience opening at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion Oct. 13, will transport anyone into the world of the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).
For 60 minutes, participants can roam freely inside a full-scale 3D replica of the ISS, float in space alongside the astronauts and gaze in awe at visions of the Earth only a handful have ever seen before. Following the virtual reality journey, participants can explore the immersive art offerings by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda.
Creating THE INFINITE was both immensely challenging and immensely rewarding, said Félix Lajeunesse, co-founder and creative director of Felix & Paul Studios, which produced it in association with TIME Studios, and in collaboration with the U.S. ISS National Laboratory, NASA and five more international space agencies. “We filmed six different teams of astronauts aboard the ISS, culminating with the filming of the space walk,” Lajeunesse said. It took a full year to develop the vacuum-ready camera, hardware and software needed to film the walk. This first-ever cinematic space walk was captured in 3D, 360° virtual reality, shot outside the ISS.
After greenlighting the project, NASA scientists reviewed all footage, and helped “work through the logistics involved in a space-to-ground operation,” said Lajeunesse. “They were an incredible partner.”
NASA has been in the news virtually non stop recently. First, there were (and are) feeds from Mars, as the Perseverance Rover sends back incredible pictures from the Red Planet. Space buffs have been glued to images from the James Webb Telescope, watched with awe as the agency and its partners successfully crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid as part of the ongoing DART project, and are waiting for the Artemis 1 rocket to successfully launch as part of the mission to return humans to the moon. “I think everything that has come before is preparation for an inflexion point [in human space exploration],” said Lajeunesse.
All this, he agreed, has raised interest in an event like THE INFINITE even higher. Its stay at the Craneway follows runs in Montreal, Houston and Seattle/Tacoma, where it has hosted more than 170,000 visitors. Once the Craneway stop is complete, THE INFINITE will continue its U.S. tour, then journey to both Europe and Asia.
The full experience is recommended for ages eight and up, but even younger kids can participate via tablets, Lajeunesse said. During THE INFINITE, participants see themselves as avatars. These are color coded, so that family groups can recognize each other, and keep track of where individuals are inside the event. “Your own group sees itself as yellow, while everyone else is blue,” he explained.
Lajeunesse spoke about listening to astronauts discussing the emotional impact of being in space and watching their world from there. “They talk about how it changes you,” he said, “how moving and transformative it is.” It gives them, he said, a truly global perspective about the Earth and its living inhabitants. “There is a sense of unity, of connection,” he said.
Reactions from those who’ve been through THE INFINITE have been different for each person, but are almost always intense. “Some people laugh, some people cry…overcome by the sheer emotion of seeing our world in this way,” Lajeunesse said. “And it’s real, not CGI.”
An interesting side note is the connection of the Craneway Pavilion’s original use. Opened as a Ford Motor Company assembly plant in 1931, it was re-tooled during World War II to build jeeps and tanks. Now, it will host a look into futuristic machines and technology—yet the ongoing evolution of human inventiveness and insatiable curiosity to explore continues.
‘Space Explorers: THE INFINITE’ opens Oct. 13 at the Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way S., Richmond. Open Wed.-Sun. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit theinfiniteexperience.com.