A cool new virtual reality camera arrived at the International Space Station today (Nov. 14) aboard Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft. The camera will be used to film a 3D, 360-degree cinematic virtual reality (VR) experience as part of National Geographic's upcoming series "One Strange Rock."
European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli will use the new camera to "lead us on a tour of the space station," Matt Zymet, National Geographic's executive director for advanced formats, said in a prelaunch teleconference with reporters. "The idea is to use all of that footage to document a day in the life on the space station."
The Vuze VR camera, created by a company called Humaneyes, is a compact and lightweight device with the dimensions of a typical four-sided sandwich. Its eight built-in cameras can record videos and shoot still images in 360 degrees and 3D with ultra-HD (4K) resolution. So, for those of us who have never been to the International Space Station, Nespoli's Vuze VR footage may be the closest we'll ever get to experiencing life in space. [Space Station Photos: Expedition 53 Mission Crew in Orbit]
"What is it like to live more than 200 miles above the Earth? Life for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station is unlike anything else — they are among the elite who have left the Earth and seen our home from space," National Geographic officials said in a statement.
Nespoli will serve as National Geographic's VR director and cameraman, "using the camera to tour the various modules, show the famous Cupola view of Earth and give viewers a sense of what it’s like to live on board," the statement said. "Throughout the course of filming, Paolo will be working with ground control to downlink footage back to Earth, where it will be incorporated into a VR short film that will accompany the premiere of National Geographic's "One Strange Rock."
Award-winning filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (director of "Requiem for a Dream") and the production company Nutopia are working together on this new global series, which will be filmed for 100 weeks around the world and in space.
"The series will use innovative micro- and macro-photography technology and bring cameras where they’ve never been before, to explore how the particularities of Earth’s unique history made it ideally suited as a cradle for life and to demonstrate how the planet’s biological, chemical and physical systems form an interdependent equilibrium, sustaining all the wonders of the living world we know," Nutopia officials said in a statement.
The virtual reality companion to the television series "will not only give you a sense of what life is like up on the space station, but through the stories that the astronauts who are on our show tell, will really give you a lens on what is amazing about our planet as seen through their eyes from space," Zymet said.
"One Strange Rock explores how intricate, interwoven and fragile life as we know it is on Earth and how rare it may be in the universe," Aronofsky said in a statement. "The more we appreciate how awe-inspiring the development of life on this planet has been, the more likely we are to become inspired stewards of the home that sustains it."
The series is scheduled to premiere on the National Geographic Channel sometime in 2018. To see Nespoli's footage in 3D and 360 degrees, viewers will need to use a VR headset, Zymet explained, adding that the videos will mainly be distributed via Facebook, Oculus, YouTube and PlayStation VR platforms.
Editor's note: You don't have to be an astronaut to shoot amazing 3D, 360-degree VR videos and photos. The same Vuze VR camera kit that Nespoli will use to shoot footage for "One Strange Rock" at the International Space Station is available online from Vuze for $799.
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Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.