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Could VR be used to support astronaut mental health?

A new partnership between HTC VIVE, Nord-Space ApS and XRHealth has launched, looking at whether modified VR headsets with built-in wellbeing programmes will boost astronaut mental health.

Andreas Mogensen,  a Danish astronaut and Commander of Expedition 70, will be among the first to test the VIVE Focus 3 in space as a support system on longer space missions, as explained in this blog post.

On November 7th, the VIVE will be onboard a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), and will be officially the first VR headset for mental health usage on the ISS.

Image from https://blog.vive.com/us/vive-focus-3-goes-to-the-international-space-station/

The concept of being up in space can seem magical for many, it’s easy to forget the often harsh reality that astronauts face. We’re excited to see how this initiative will run, and what it could mean for future gaming technology being used to support astronaut mental health.

One of the impressive parts of this initiative is how the VIVE team has repurposed the VIVE Focus 3 to be optimised for space. Microgravity, or weightlessness, refers to conditions where the effects of gravity are very small. When combined with spacecraft mechanics and having to wear a VR headset, most astronauts were fighting motion sickness and an inability to use the headset entirely.

Inspired by a range of solutions in our industry-leading Location Based Software Suite (LBSS), our team developed a special tracking methodology which utilized a controller as an anchor point. You can actually find this solution in arcades and businesses all over the world. On Earth we call it SimulatorVR mode, and it’s used for VR roller coasters and immersive motion simulators as well as comprehensive flight training and advanced driving simulations.

VR Mental Health Content

So, what is going to be on the headset that supports astronauts? According to VIVE’s blogpost, the VR therapy will include 360 degree videos derived from practices in meditation and relaxation to help with various mental health aspects. These include:

  • Sunset on the Hill 
  • Mountain Path in Europe
  • Swimming with Dolphins
  • Western Sea
  • Wetlands

VR on Earth

Whilst this will be the VIVE Focus 3’s first expedition to space, the ESA and NASA are already using the VIVE technology in astronaut training for simulated emergencies, rescue missions and more.

We’re excited to see how video games and technology can aid in mental health support, both on Earth and in space!