VIRTUAL REALITY is here to stay, even if most people haven’t tried it yet, and not everyone agrees on the definition. It often gets confused with augmented reality (think Pokémon Go), and they both get lumped together as immersive, mixed, or hybrid technologies. Whatever the name, they all give the illusion of being someplace you aren’t, or showing you something that isn’t really there. Even in their current early stage of development, VR and AR can “take you there” better than photos, video, or any other medium that ever existed. And they’re only going to get better.
Space and aviation are perfect subjects for these new technologies. Whether it’s looking around inside the International Space Station or sitting in the cockpit of an F-22, VR cameras are going places that few people ever get to see in person. We’ll use this Space VR page to alert you to some of the coolest and the latest.
How to get started
First you’ll need a headset or VR glasses. Most of our recommendations will be for Google Cardboard, Daydream, or Gear VR, since those are the cheapest and most widely used types of VR today. For under $20 you can buy any one of hundreds of Cardboard headsets or fold-up glasses online. Here are some that Google recommends. Plastic is more durable than cardboard, and the plastic sets generally come assembled (as opposed to a kit). You also might want one with a headstrap, so your arms don’t get tired holding the thing to your face.
Then you’ll need a fairly up-to-date smartphone (my old, retired Galaxy III S still works for a few apps, but not many). The higher the screen resolution, the better. The phone serves as the display, and clips or slides into the headset.
Gear VR and Google Daydream are the next level up in terms of VR quality, although they only work with selected high-end smartphones. Right now, these two headsets and the more expensive ($200) Oculus Go give you the most VR bang for the buck.
For the phone-based headsets, you’ll need to install on your phone the (mostly) free apps that contain the VR images or videos. Many can be viewed with Google’s own YouTube, Cardboard and StreetView apps, all of which are indispensible. More good VR apps appear every day, including Jaunt, YouVisit, Within, and GoPro VR.
See below for regular recommendations about what we think are the best space- and aviation-related VR experiences, or send us your own suggestions. And keep checking airspacemag.com/vr as we add more. If you call up the page on your phone, you can go directly to the links.
Note: To watch 360-degree YouTube videos with a Cardboard headset, be sure to open them in the YouTube app on your smartphone. You should see a little cardboard symbol in the lower right corner that you then tap to split the screen. If you don’t, try tapping the “share” symbol [arrow] in the YouTube frame, then the ... [three dots] symbol, which should open the video directly in your phone’s YouTube app.