In 2016, after spending 186 days in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of his Principia mission, it was time for British astronaut, Major Tim Peake, to return to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-19M space capsule. The Soyuz is a tiny, yet durable, vessel with just enough space for three adults to squeeze inside. On 18th June, packed tightly next to his fellow astronauts, Major Peake began the perilous seven-hour descent back to Earth, finishing his descent on the Kazakhstan Steppe.
This breath-taking journey is something only a handful of people in human history have ever experienced – until now.
Earlier this year, the Science Museum Group made one of their most historically important acquisitions to date – the actual Soyuz capsule that Major Peake travelled in. To accompany this landmark acquisition, Science Museum Group commissioned Alchemy VR to make a VR experience to further enrich the visitor experience and engage audiences deeper into this key museum object.
Alchemy set to work producing an exhilarating 12-minute 360-degree 3D state-of-the-art virtual reality experience, which transports visitors inside the Soyuz - one of the most enduring spacecraft of the modern age. Using the very latest in VR technology, viewers can experience what it feels like to sit inside the Soyuz’s descent module as it takes its journey back to Earth, travelling at speeds of more than 27,000kph, and reaching temperatures of around 1600 degrees. While travelling back to Earth, the VR footage allows the wearer, who is placed in the pilot's seat, to look around the cramped spacecraft in 360-degrees and be guided through the experience by Tim Peake, who narrates every stage.
The project was developed in partnership at every step of the way with experts, visitor services and commercial teams at the Science Museum. Initially, Alchemy held creative meetings with the museum experts and educationalists to develop a narrative journey that enthralled visitors and achieved educational objectives. As the project progressed, Alchemy worked with the European Space Agency, NASA and Tim Peake himself to assure absolute accuracy in terms of the interior of the capsule. Alchemy also worked with commercial and visitor services teams to refine the operational process and install the experience.
Space Descent VR has been hailed by Tim himself as being very close to the real thing — without the outside temperatures! It is in such high-definition that it took 100 computers a month to produce the footage. The creation of the VR footage was carefully produced with incredible attention to detail in every element of the final output. When the capsule turns on its thrusters and lands, the entire VR capsule moves too.
Space Descent VR opened to the public in March at the Science Museum in London, where a special ‘VR lounge’ was created where audiences view the super-sharp 5K video in Samsung Gear headsets after watching a short introductory video featuring Tim Peake himself speaking from ESA ‘headquarters’! The experience has been well received both by the public and the press with the Daily Telegraph describing it as a ‘breathtaking virtual reality experience’ and ITV London News also commenting that it was a ‘thrilling and immersive’.
This project shows how Alchemy has harnessed one of the most exciting visual and educational technologies to create a truly next generation experience, and to let everyone get a little taste of life as an astronaut in 2017.