Samsung’s moon-hopping VR experience in NYC is like space camp for adults

Forty-nine years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon for the first time in history. NASA is preparing a wide-range of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 next year, but Samsung is getting a head start. The South Korean company is kicking off a year-long four-dimensional virtual reality experience to simulate a moon-like environment, so everyone can step into the shoes of the dozen humans who have walked on the moon.

It’s largely a way to show off Samsung’s technology, as the experience utilizes a Gear VR headset and a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, but Samsung also worked with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to develop a system similar to the space agency’s Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS), a rig that astronauts train with to experience low-gravity environments. The rig — paired with a flight suit, the Gear VR, and the Galaxy S9 Plus — allows people to visualize the moon’s surface from a new perspective, and also experience low gravity.

“[NASA] is really excited about reigniting the public discussion around space exploration — specifically around the moon — as we lead up to the 50th anniversary of the moonwalk next year, but also because the moon plays a critical role in the first manned mission to Mars,” Zach Overton, Samsung’s vice president of brand experience and general manager of Samsung 837, told Digital Trends. “For them, this is an opportunity to excite the astronauts of tomorrow around the mission. For us, on the one hand it was democratizing an experience that only 12 men have done before, and we think that should be something for everybody … But it’s also a way of exciting youth and adults alike in science and math and engineering, and of course, technology.”

This is an opportunity to excite the astronauts of tomorrow.

Digital Trends got a sneak peek of the VR experience before it opens on July 20, the anniversary of Armstrong and Aldrin landing on the moon — here’s what it’s like.

This is Mission Control

From the beginning to the end, the staff managing the VR experience play the part of Mission Control. “Welcome, astronaut!” will be the first words you hear as you enter the bay doors, designed to look like the interior of the spaceship in every sci-fi movie. We had to put our belongings away in a locker, and then watch a short video describing the experience, and what we shouldn’t do. Then comes suiting up.

With the help of two people, we donned a flight suit designed with the help of NASA. It feels quite tight, and there are sensors on the suit to help track movements in VR. Next is the helmet, which is built around a Gear VR headset. After it was snug around our head, we were taken to the ARGOS-like rig. A technician hooked us up to the harness, and we had to comply with a few quick tests to confirm everything was good to go. We had to pull the Gear VR headset down in front of our eyes for the show to start.

astronaut suits hanging

Samsung

We started in the Lunar Module, and we had to press the primary button on the Gear VR controller to open the bay door. That’s when we had to start hopping. Essentially, you’re jumping in real life, but the harness will pull you higher into the air (not too high), and it will then gradually lower you until your legs hit the ground. Each jump in real life will move you forward as a low-gravity hop in the VR experience. We followed a rover to the edge of a crater where we could see Earth, but the crater’s edge started to crumble, and we quickly had to jump out of the way.

This is easily the most immersive Gear VR experience we’ve ever tried, and it’s all thanks to the ARGOS-like rig.

We then got a chance to plant our flag anywhere, but soon after, things started to get dangerous. There’s a meteor shower, with meteors striking the ground all over — we were commanded to race back to the Lunar Module. The last 20 seconds involved hopping as fast as we could to get inside, and there really is a sense of urgency as a crack appeared on our visor. Thankfully, we made it safely. Mission Control says the mission was a success.

We were steered back into the suit-up bay, where we were awarded two patches and a pin for completing the mission. We stripped the flight suit off, and the magic kind of wears off.

samsung nasa moon landing in suit
Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

This is easily the most immersive Gear VR experience we’ve ever tried, and it’s all thanks to the ARGOS-like rig. We’ve never experienced low or zero gravity, but we imagine it feels extremely similar to what Samsung’s offering here. That being said, this is a souped up Gear VR experience — the sensors mounted on the flight suit allowed us to look at our hands in VR, which you can’t do with your Gear VR at home. You’ll want to keep hopping all around on the moon.

A Moon For All Mankind, which is what Samsung’s calling the experience, lasts about 20 minutes or so, and more types of content will be added throughout the year, so you can always come back another time to try something new. It’s free, but sadly it’s only available at Samsung 837 in New York City, the company’s product experience hub that’s open to the public. It will stay open until July 2019, right in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

You can simply walk in and get in line, though the wait may be long, or you can reserve a time on the Samsung 837 website.

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