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.

For this study, the iSpace team, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Alexander Stahn and team has designed a VR expe­ri­ence and an accom­pa­ny­ing study that assesses the poten­tial of such a pur­pose­fully designed VR expe­ri­ence to mit­i­gate some of the neg­a­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal effects aris­ing from living in iso­la­tion and expe­ri­enc­ing sen­sory depri­va­tion. The VR expe­ri­ence takes par­tic­i­pants on a med­i­ta­tive jour­ney invit­ing them to reflect on their con­nec­tion to Earth and human­ity as well as the impor­tance of their own mis­sion. The expe­ri­ence is inspired by sev­eral self-transcendent phe­nom­ena such as med­i­ta­tion, wit­ness­ing vast nature, awe-inspiring aurora and solar eclipse, and the overview effect.

Alexander Stahn and iSpace trav­elled to Moscow in September 2021, to set up the system in the facil­ity and to famil­iar­ize the pri­mary and alter­nate crew with the pro­ce­dure of the study. They will travel to Moscow again in summer 2022 to learn about crew’s expe­ri­ence with Earthgazing VR.

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]


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 Research Design: Katerina Stepanova, Noah Miller Voiceover: Katerina Stepanova Sound Design: Patrick Pennefather Collaborators: Alex Stahn, Katharina Brauns, Anika Werner

Publications and exhibits

Stepanova, K. (2021, October 31). Virtual real­ity can combat iso­la­tion with awe and empa­thy — on Earth and in space. The Conversation.
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

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 & thanks

Thanks to fund­ing from DLR grant 50WB1915 (PI: Dr. AC Stahn, Charité Berlin) and addi­tional sup­port from ESA, DLR, SSHRC, and