SIRIUS - Virtual Earthgazing to mitigate effects of sensory isolation


SIRIUS (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) is a series of on-land iso­la­tion exper­i­ments mod­el­ling long-term space­flight in order to assess the psy­chophys­i­o­log­i­cal effects of iso­la­tion on a crew and pre­pare for long-duration space­flights, such as a trip to Mars. An 8-month-long iso­la­tion study com­menced in Moscow on Nov 4th, 2021, where a crew of 6 people (from Roscosmos, NASA and space agency of Arabic Emirates) went into a spe­cial facil­ity mod­el­ling a space­craft, remain­ing there until July 2022  sim­u­lat­ing an extra­plan­e­tary jour­ney and par­tic­i­pat­ing in 70 exper­i­ments pre­pared by inter­na­tional research teams.

As part of a DLR spon­sored study imple­mented by Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and led by PI Alex Stahn  a VR expe­ri­ence was designed to aug­ment sen­sory stim­u­la­tion during pro­longed iso­la­tion and confinement.The approach is specif­i­cally tar­geted at astro­nauts to mit­i­gate some of the psy­cho­log­i­cal stres­sors asso­ci­ated with long-duration exploratory space mis­sions. The VR expe­ri­ence was designed to their con­nec­tion to Earth and human­ity as well as the impor­tance of their own mis­sion. The ele­ments of the vir­tual expe­ri­ence were inspired by research on self-transcendent phe­nom­ena such as med­i­ta­tion, wit­ness­ing vast nature, awe-inspiring aurora and solar eclipse, and the overview effect that have been shown to have pos­i­tive effects on behav­ior, mental well-being, and health.

Here’s the recent GlobalNews cov­er­age on our SIRIUS Earthgazing project: [note that this project was cre­ated by a whole team of people as described in the below cred­its, not just one PhD stu­dent]


Here’s how Alex Kitson explained the users’ jour­ney in her recent TEDx talk

30 sec Preview of Awedyssey paper

More project details of SIRIUS

SIRIUS book­let .pdf

record­ing of Experiment Completion Ceremony on July 3, 2022:


Alex Stahn: Funding acqui­si­tion, Project admin­is­tra­tion, Supervision, Conceptualization, Methodology (Experimental Design), Resources; Bernhard Riecke: Conceptualization, Methodology (Experimental Design, Narrative con­cept), Supervision, Resources; Noah Miller: Software, Methodology (Art Design, Experimental Design, Experience Design & Development), Data Curation;  John Desnoyers-Stewart: Software, Methodology (Art Design, Experience Design & Development, Narrative Concept); Katerina Stepanova: Methodology (Art Design, Narrative con­cept, Voiceover, Experimental Design), Investigation, Data Curation; Ashu Adhikari: Software, Methodology (Art Design, Experience Design & Development); Patrick Pennefather: Methodology (Art Design, Sound Design); Alex Kitson: Methodology (Narrative con­cept, Art Design); Denise Quesnel: Methodology (Narrative con­cept, Art Design); Katharina Brauns: Methodology (Experimental Design), Data Curation, Investigation; Anika Friedl-Werner: Methodology (Experimental Design), Data Curation, Investigation


Artists Credits

Artists: Noah Miller, John Desnoyers-Stewart, Katerina Stepanova, Ashu Adhikari, Bernhard Riecke, Patrick Pennefather, Alex Kitson, Denise Quesnel Experience Design and Development: Noah Miller, John Desnoyers-Stewart, Ashu Adhikari Direction: Bernhard Riecke Narrative and Concept: Katerina Stepanova, John Desnoyers-Stewart, Alex Kitson, Denise Quesnel   Voiceover: Katerina Stepanova Sound Design: Patrick Pennefather 

Publications and exhibits

Miller, N., Stepanova, E. R., Desnoyers-Stewart, J., Adhikari, A., Kitson, A., Pennefather, P., Quesnel, D., Brauns, K., Friedl-Werner, A., Stahn, A., & Riecke, B. E. (2023). Awedyssey: Design Tensions in Eliciting Self-transcendent Emotions in Virtual Reality to Support Mental Well-being and Connection. Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference, 189–211.
Stepanova, E. R., Brauns, K., Friedl-Werner, A., Miller, N., Desnoyers-Stewart, J., Adhikari, A., Riecke, B. E., & Stahn, A. C. (2022). A Neurophenomenological Approach to Better Understand the Effects of Eliciting Positive Experiences in Virtual Reality [Poster]. Phenomenological Methods in Neuroscience and Consciousness Research work­shop, University of Zürich. (Download)
Stepanova, K. (2021, October 31). Virtual real­ity can combat iso­la­tion with awe and empa­thy — on Earth and in space. The Conversation.
Kitson, A. J. (2021, November). How we can use vir­tual real­ity to sup­port our mental health [Talk]. TEDxSFU, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Sirius. (2021, October 1). [Curated & peer-reviewed Virtual Reality Exhibition]. V-Unframed, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Miller, N., Desnoyers-Stewart, J., Stepanova, E. R., Adhikari, A., Kitson, A. J., Quesnel, D. T., Pennefather, P., & Riecke, B. E. (2021, October 1). Sirius [Curated & peer-reviewed Virtual Reality Exhibition]. V-Unframed, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Media coverage

record­ing of Experiment Completion Ceremony on July 3, 2022:

SFU project to help astro­nauts deal with iso­la­tion. (2021, December 9). In Global News. Global News.
Simon Fraser University — Earthgazing VR expe­ri­ence to help astro­nauts cope with lone­li­ness. (2021, November 5). Education News Canada.
Earthgazing VR expe­ri­ence to help astro­nauts cope with lone­li­ness. (2021, November 3). SFU News — Simon Fraser University.
SFU researchers create vir­tual real­ity expe­ri­ence to help astro­nauts manage lone­li­ness in space. (2021, November 22). The Peak.
Sajwar, R. (2021, November 16). This New Earthgazing VR Experience Will Help Astronauts Cope With Loneliness In Space. Wonderful Engineering.
McDonald, B. (2021, November 11). Canadian VR tech­nol­ogy will aid iso­la­tion effects on a sim­u­lated long dura­tion space flight. CBC Radio.
Earthgazing VR expe­ri­ence to help astro­nauts cope with lone­li­ness – SFU News – Simon Fraser University News | Prometheism Transhumanism Post Humanism. (2021, November 7).
SFU’s Earthgazing VR Experience Can Help Astronauts Deal with Isolation. (2021, November 5). AR VR News.
Earthgazing VR expe­ri­ence to help astro­nauts cope with lone­li­ness. (2021, November 3).
B.C. student’s VR tech gets lift off in exper­i­ment on astro­naut lone­li­ness. (2021, December 10). MSN.
Karamali, K. (2021, December 10). B.C. student’s VR tech gets lift off in exper­i­ment on astro­naut lone­li­ness | Global News.

Support & Acknowledgement

The study is sup­ported through DLR grant 50WB1915 and ESA project AO-SIRIUS-2019 (PI: Dr. AC Stahn, Charité Berlin) and addi­tional sup­port SSHRC and NSERC