Sailing Bark Europa

I have always regretted my decision to not stay on extended active duty to take part in a Department of Defense research project to Antarctica. It was an immense opportunity that is still sadly missed. Whereas most of us never have the opportunity to participate in a major exploration project, I was lucky and instead turned it away. Just forget about it, right? No, there can soon be ways to become an active explorer; right in your own home or in school.

Additionally, it will be a good many generations before the majority of humankind travels out into space. This, too, can be an exploration that we can initially experience here on our home planet; in fact in our own homes or schools.  This can be accomplished by expanding the already impressive virtual reality (VR) systems and programs such as Nintendo Wii, Second Life, ActiveWorlds, and others.

Right now each of the above entertainment VR systems offer direct interactive involvement in a virtual world that includes some zones devoted to the exploring of our natural environment and space.  Each, clearly shows that we can use this technology to allow us to personally experience key moments in history, or great exploratory expeditions of the past, or to take part in new explorations into the sciences and outer space.

Using the “Second Life” virtual world concept, imagine creating your own astro-avatar that joins with other astro-avatars as they board their spacecraft for an initial visit to Mars. You would not be alone.  In the social media concept of  “Second Life” you would share your experience with other astro-avatars like yourself. This is an exploratory learning experience that an entire family could participate in with the right computer systems setup.

In another example, we insert a VR history module into our system. We create an avatar for ourselves that blends in with the historical era. Lets say we want to be part of Admiral Richard Byrd’s expeditions to the North Pole and South Pole.  The module integrates us into a dramatic historical series that allows us to experience and not simply read about these great expeditions. We, as avatars, are members of the exploration party, not just bystanders.

In the vast realm and challenges of education, the use of VR systems holds great promise for enabling students to enrich their regular learning by directly experiencing specific historical and/or scientific material.  It is like adding a whole new dimension to a youngster’s grasp of a topic, or procedure, or historical event.  To read a more detailed discussion of VR education systems please consider visiting The Virtual Educator.

There is a much design and system development challenge to bring this kind of VR experience into being.  We are partly there, but ideally we need to bring the public to the point where there is enough demand to warrant the intense and expensive development process needed to produce these products. As we know part of that demand already exists when we consider the sales of Wii systems and memberships in virtual worlds such as either Active Worlds or Second Life. The fact that movie producer, James Cameron, is now taking his Avatar experience to work for NASA indicates that the odds of realizing the VR concepts mentioned above are reasonable and attainable.

The design and development of these systems is not as demanding as those that establish what is known as immersive virtual reality. These are systems where the participants don special helmets and other devices to literally enter a VR world.  They are not in a pseudo-participant mode looking through their computer screens. They are entirely present and on scene.  There are some gaming centers that use immersive VR, and it would be stunning to develop a space exploration system using this model, but it would not be suitable for home or school use. Regardless, this concept could also blossom into a full-fledged public adventure in interactive exploring.

The most common element in all of this is creativity, and that in itself is a vital stimulus that can move humankind both onward and upward. The engineering, programming, and graphic innovations these VR systems demand enriches the entire technology realm. Solutions that are originally designed for a VR system can and will be extended right into real world projects.  Again, James Cameron and his movie, Avatar, bear witness to this eventuality.

The opportunity to carry humankind into the space exploration era through VR experiences is more than exciting, it is an obligation. It is an obligation because we of this century and this generation must begin the process of preparing future generations to go well beyond where humankind has never gone before. With VR it is not a chore, it is a delightful endeavor that lights up all our lives.

See you on Pandora.


Image of the sailing Bark Europa from IAATO Antarctic Expeditions.

Explore posts in the same categories: Deep Space Explorations, Education, Humankind and Exploration, Scientific Research, Virtual Reality Systems

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