Oculus has launched a virtual reality app that lets users explore the International Space Station, go on cool spacewalks, and be an astronaut for a day.

Released last March 9, the Mission: ISS simulation works with the Oculus Rift VR headset and the Oculus Touch motion controllers. It can be downloaded for free from the Oculus Store.

Astronaut Mission In VR

Los Angeles-based production firm Magnopus collaborated with NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency in this “true-to-life simulation” that allows curious minds to dock incoming cargo capsules, join spacewalks, and perform mission-critical tasks like a true astronaut does. Add to this the experience of enjoying breathtaking Earth views from orbit.

“’Mission: ISS’ recreates the International Space Station in painstaking detail. While many of us dream of becoming astronauts, only about 500 people have ever been to space,” Oculus wrote in a blog post.

Users will also get to learn the history of the renowned space lab and hear astronauts’ stories in several videos.

The project includes two other kinds of outreach. A limited beta program will provide direct Mission: ISS access and the accompanying hardware to high school students in the United States, while the Rift will also be transported to space for astronauts’ use at ISS.

For the first time in orbit, European astronaut Thomas Pesquet will “test the effects of zero-gravity on human spatial awareness and balance” through software produced by the space agencies. Oculus partnered with the French Space Agency for this initiative.

Astronauts also worked with Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets to test a system guiding technical processes and repairs while in orbit. This is done via superimposing VR elements on the real world, viewable through the headset.

Coldest Place In The Universe

If things go as planned, the ISS will soon host the coldest place in the universe.

NASA is bent on creating the coldest place on Earth and launching it into outer space. The Cold Atom Laboratory, or CAL, will be used by astrophysicists for this purpose.

Scientists will attempt never-before-done experiments involving CAL — an ice box-sized chest that’s now the coldest place on Earth — that will chill down the atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. SpaceX is poised to launch the device to the ISS in August.

NASA will undertake the mission to better study and understand hyper-cold atoms to reshape current understanding of matter and gravity. One phenomenon is the creation of the Bose-Einstein condensate, the super fluid state of matter where the atoms change into mysterious waves and propagate themselves — something yet to be seen in absolute zero temperature.

Attempts of creating Bose-Einstein condensates on the planet have only been partly successful. On Earth, atoms and molecules tend to move toward the ground given the pull of gravity, which means the phenomenon can only be witnessed for fractions of a second.

As ISS is in a perennial freefall, CAL could preserve the structures for up to 10 seconds, according to NASA officials.

CAL observations are also hoped to lead to improved technologies such as in the development of quantum computers and atomic clocks, to name a few.

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