'Women in Spaceflight' VR experience launches to celebrate female astronauts

Highlights from an Emmy Award-winning virtual reality experience celebrate women living and working in space.

"Women in Spaceflight" launched Wednesday (March 8) on Meta Quest to focus on the women astronauts who were featured in the four-part "Space Explorers: The ISS Experience," which was released in 2020. The series garnered Canadian creators Felix & Paul Studios a Primetime Emmy Award in 2021 for Outstanding Interactive Program.

The free mini-VR experience, available here, launched to coincide with International Women's Day along with Women's History Month; the latter runs for the month of March. 

If virtual reality headsets are your thing, then be sure to check out our best VR headsets and VR headsets deals guides for all the best products and discounts. We also have an extensive list of the best VR space games.

Related: International Space Station facts, history & tracking

Oculus Quest 2 256GB: $499.99now $429.99 at Meta

Oculus Quest 2 256GB: $499.99 now $429.99 at Meta

The Meta Quest 2 (aka Oculus Quest 2) offers the best of both worlds; use it stand-alone for a wireless VR experience or connect it to a PC. It may have gone up by $100 last year, but this deal saves you $70 on the cost of the 256GB version. 

You get two free games as well: GOLF+ and Space Pirate Trainer DX.

The astronauts themselves shot the footage on the International Space Station using specially designed cameras that allowed virtual reality users to swivel their view in real time as a story plays out in the headset. A central focus point is also available for people watching on flat screens.

Prominent women featured include aviator and Mercury 13 participant Jerrie Cobb; NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who performed the first all-female spacewalk in 2019; and NASA astronaut Anne McClain, one of the few known LGBTQ+ astronauts.

"My favorite part of 'Women in Spaceflight' is Anne McClain's mom asking if the kids and teachers who ridiculed her dream to become an astronaut worked at NASA —because if they didn’t, then their opinion just didn't matter," Katarina Soukup, vice-president of production at Felix & Paul Studios, said in a blog post.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain is smiling from ear to ear in an out-of-this world selfie she took during her first spacewalk on March 22, 2019. McClain is one of the few known LGBTQ+ people who have reached space. (Image credit: NASA)

McClain said her approach was to keep applying for an astronaut job until NASA told her "no" definitively, Soukup said, adding that anecdote was a good example of "the power of cutting out the noise and the naysayers."

While Soukup said the women astronauts themselves did not want to "fixate on achieving historic milestones because it might mean compromising safety," she said that women will notch more spaceflight achievements as the types of recruitment become more diverse. For example, in October 2022, Nicole Mann became the first  Native American woman to reach space. Mann, a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in northern California, arrived at the ISS on SpaceX's Crew-5 mission, which will return to Earth this weekend.

NASA counts 73 women astronauts who have flown as of March 2023, but the number increases when considering suborbital journeys. The number of people in space overall is more than 600, again varying depending on which flights are counted. The vast majority of flights used to be by white males, in large part because NASA and other agencies drew from the military, but that has rapidly changed in recent decades amid worldwide efforts to increase diversity.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace