NASA shows the world its 20-year virtual reality experiment to train astronauts: The inside story (cover story PDF)

For this in-depth report, NASA’s Johnson Space Center told TechRepublic writer Erin Carson the whole story behind one of the most important tools it uses to train astronauts: virtual reality. Learn how the agency pulled off VR’s greatest triumph.

This download provides the magazine version of the article as a free PDF for registered TechRepublic and ZDNet members. The online version of this story is available here.

From the story:

For the first time, astronaut Doug Wheelock hung on to a handrail outside the International Space Station (ISS), and looked down at the Earth.

“I know exactly where I am,” he thought. “It looks just like the VR Lab.”

That familiarity is a quick comfort not only for Wheelock, but for many astronauts past, present, and future, floating hundreds of miles above the Earth, trying to get a job done in one of the most hostile working environments imaginable.

In space, an astronaut’s next minutes are never guaranteed. They have to adjust to the drastically modified rules of physics, and to a calmness and a slowness that masks danger.

Inside Wheelock’s spacesuit, he was aware of the frightening silence of space, broken only by the voices coming in through his communications cap, the ventilation system of his suit, and his own heartbeat. Outside, temperatures were fluctuating between 300 degrees Fahrenheit and negative 300 degrees in 90-minute cycles.

Space is beautiful–but unforgiving.

Wheelock knew it would be like this.

His preparation from the Virtual Reality Lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center was both mental and physical.

As the spacewalk–or extra vehicular activity (EVA)–turns 50 in 2015, its history is inextricably linked to the development and use of a technology that’s long been derided as a toy.

Read the rest of the story in this PDF download.

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