Virtual Reality


In a well-engineered spaceship, it takes seven months to get to Mars. During this journey, astronauts have no access to nature or socialization. This type of isolation could be detrimental to the astronaut’s health and productivity. Regular people face a lot of the same challenges that long duration space travelers face including isolation and loneliness.

Thankfully we now have virtual reality. Since Covid-19 has had most of the world on lockdown or at least has led to people being advised to stay home, there are many people not able to socialize or enjoy nature as of lately which can lead to loneliness and depression rates going up.

Loneliness and isolation can lead to a plethora of negative consequences for not only our cognitive health but well-being and physical health as well. Feeling connected to others is important to living a healthy and happy life. Many are turning to virtual reality for socialization and entertainment.

Simulated Isolation

Space agencies conduct many different simulations and studies to help mitigate risks involved with long duration space travel including isolation. SIRIUS (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) is a series of experiments that simulate long term space flight and isolation on land.

It has been found to be cheaper and safer to perform these experiments on land in order to assess the affects that long term space flight will have on space crews. This also allows for solutions to these issues to be tested for effectiveness to make sure the mental and physical health of the crew will be supported.

SIRIUS-21 is an isolation study done in Moscow that lasts 8 months and begun on November 4, 2021. A crew of 6 multinational people will go into a facility known as NEK that models a spacecraft that was built in the 1960’s. They will stay there for 240 days and partake in 70 experiments that have been prepared for them by international research teams.

Self-Transcendence

Self-transcendence is known as “a cluster of phenomena and associated emotional states that are characterized by an increased sense of interconnectedness with the world”. Self-transcendent experiences can include being impressed by the vastness of a landscape, standing on a mountaintop, or staring at a starry sky and seeing something bigger than oneself. Awe is the name for the emotion that goes hand in hand with self-transcendence. It supports our physical health and well-being not to mention making us be more compassionate and even pro-social.

Awe can be experienced through many things including spiritual practices, culture, and nature. Traveling can also induce awe such as going to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. These recent lockdowns and forced isolation limit us to experiences that bring about awe.

Studies are being done to see if virtual reality could be a potential temporary solution to the effects of isolation and loneliness. iSpaceLab has produced a narrated half hour long experience called “Earthgazing VR experience” where those participating are immersed in a scene of nature.

Through this program they can experience many things including watching the sun set over a canyon while in the company of some wild animals, cloud gazing, witnessing aurora in the sky at night, or seeing Mars fly through space across a solar eclipse. Participants also reflect on the way that all life on Earth is interconnected as they orbit around Earth.

This amazing program was inspired by the “Overview Effect” which is a profound experience that astronauts enjoy as they witness the Earth from outer space in all of its fragile beauty. The SIRIUS-21 crew is going to be partaking in this incredible experience and will be reporting back how it helps support their stress levels, feeling of connection, emotional state, and the effects on their psychological and physical health.

Power of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality can easily be seen as an isolating type of technology but many are studying to use it to facilitate connections and to mitigate the effects of loneliness and isolation. Rather than locking us all in individual realities, there are creative experiments being done to see how this immersive technology can be used to instead bring us together and help us to connect with positive experiences.