NASA Has a Virtual Reality-Based Space Station Simulator

The "mixed reality" International Space Station sim helps astronauts train for life in orbit.

NASA

"Virtual reality" and "augmented reality" are all the rage these days in tech circles, with Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Facebook already building up their arsenals for what's expected to be a battle royale for the future of consumer electronics. But while VR and AR may still be a few years from being a ubiquitous part of the life of Joe and Jane Sixpack, NASA is already riding on the bleeding edge of tech. As TechCrunch recently pointed out, the space agency is using "mixed reality" to train astronauts on Earth before they head up to the International Space Station. 

"Mixed reality" uses a combination of real and virtual environments to create a "world" consisting of both of them simultaneously, making it ideal for simulating what it's like to navigate the tight corridors of the ISS without going to the trouble of building an exact replica. 

In addition, NASA's system also includes a computer-controlled crane that the astronaut can be hooked up to in order to help simulate weightlessness or microgravity, enabling it to replicate what it's like to be anywhere from low Earth orbit to the surface of Mars. 

The NASA system was developed in conjunction with Epic Games's Unreal Engine, a suite of video game design tools that's been used to create games like the Batman: Arkham Asylum franchise, as well as virtual reality experiences for the likes of BMW. Last year, Unreal Engine released a video pulling the curtain back on the system; if you don't think NASA's likely to accept your astronaut application and give you a chance to see the sim for yourself, you can check it out below.