Tour the Space Station in VR with This Amazing 3D, 360-Degree Video

The National Geographic Channel has revealed the first 3D, 360-degree video of space as a part of its new documentary series "One Strange Rock." We took a virtual tour with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station while hearing their thoughts on the enormity of space, and it left us speechless.

A special delivery arrived at the space station last November: a state-of-the-art Vuze VR camera. European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli brought the camera with him during his daily routine on the station. Nespoli received unique training on the device from series filmmaker Darren Aronofsky himself, who gave the Italian astronaut a crash course in VR filming via Skype. To experience the full impact of the video, watch it on your smartphone while wearing your favorite VR headset.

The video begins in low Earth orbit. An instrumental prelude plays as the space station approaches. The welcoming voice of retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield relates how his 166 days in space changed his world view, both literally and metaphorically. Hadfield is soon joined by former NASA astronauts Mae Jemison, Mike Massimino and Nicole Stott, all of whom discuss their experience of Earth from the rarified vantage point of the space station. [The International Space Station: Inside and Out (Infographic)]

European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli wears a 3D, virtual-reality camera on his head to film a tour of the International Space Station. (Image credit: National Geographic)

Nespoli carries the trusty camera through the tight quarters of the space station, providing viewers with a 360-degree perspective of life aboard the outpost in the sky. Wires, fixtures and equipment cover nearly every surface of the cabins, but that's nary a problem when you can float past them in microgravity. Nespoli also recorded super-high-definition footage of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the first woman to command the space station, including her final day in space at the end of Expedition 52. The sequences will appear in the series' final episode, which airs on Monday, May 28 at 10 p.m. EDT/9 p.m. CDT.

Nespoli also captured the breathtaking views from the station's many windows, and in the video, his retired colleagues recount the transformations they experienced while peering through these portals. 

"I took a look at the planet and just sort of let it sink in," Massimino says in the video as Earth slowly spins below. "And then, I thought to myself, 'This is something human eyes are not supposed to see. This must be the view from heaven.'"

Massimino's testimony reflects the sentiment of the series as a whole, in which former astronauts join host Will Smith to convey the majesty and wonder of our existence on this small, blue world. The astronauts provide their perspectives on the grand story of life on Earth as only those who have left it truly can. Meanwhile, Smith's casual stylemakes him a remarkably relatable guide as he marvels alongside the audience at the wonders of our world.

"One Strange Rock" manages to take the most academic processes, like the water cycle of the Amazon basin, and reveal the remarkable ways in which they are connected to everything else on the planet, including the viewers who are watching the series from their couches. The storylines loop back upon themselves over and over in dazzling, fluid motions like a figure-skating routine. 

Don't miss "One Strange Rock," which airs on the National Geographic Channel on Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT/PDT (9 p.m. CDT).

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Harrison Tasoff
Former Contributing Writer

Harrison Tasoff is a science journalist originally from Los Angeles. He graduated from NYU’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program after earning his B.A. in mathematics at Swarthmore College. Harrison covers an array of subjects, but often finds himself drawn to physics, ecology, and earth science stories. In his spare time, he enjoys tidepooling, mineral collecting, and tending native plants.