To Boldly Go Back: Our First Step on Humanity’s Return to the Moon

Oculus Blog
Posted by Mark Rabkin, VP of VR, Reality Labs at Meta
August 28, 2022

Update August 29, 2022: Today’s Artemis I launch has been called off and will be rescheduled. Subscribe to attend the event in VR.

For entire generations across the globe, every milestone of early space exploration was a Big Deal. The first orbit, the first dog and human in space, the first space station, and, of course—the moon landing. From science class to all the science fiction these efforts inspired, the allure of the final frontier was palpable. Now, space is back in a major way, and NASA is hard at work to return humans to the moon. I’m so excited to see that early energy surrounding space exploration come full circle. And I’m proud to play even a small part in NASA’s Artemis I launch, which you can watch live tomorrow alongside pre-show content from Felix & Paul Studios in Venues in Horizon Worlds.*

On its face, the mission is simple: to send humans back to the moon for the first time since 1972. While Artemis I is an uncrewed launch, it’s a crucial step toward putting the first person of color and woman on the moon and enabling human exploration of Mars. And it’s a mission several decades in the making.

Our hope is that the VR livestream of the Artemis I launch can recreate some of the magic that people have felt historically, huddled around the glow of their television screen as humans banded together to take the first steps on the moon. Or win the World Cup. Or bring home the gold at the Olympics. Today’s media landscape is so fragmented—everyone has their own apps, their own feed and social circles. There’s a hunger for that old-fashioned sense of togetherness to be found during moments of triumph on the national or international stage. We get glimpses of it during live sporting events or the season finale of blockbuster shows, but nothing compares to a moment of true historical significance.

Even with humanity returning to orbit, spinning around the planet for the first time in 50 years, some of the magic of the moment is lost when everyone’s separated by screens. Watching on your phone or your laptop or even a big-screen TV, it’s just not the same as a true communal experience. And that’s where VR comes in. Thanks to its immersive nature and your physical proximity to other people (albeit just their avatars), you get to experience a sense of social presence—the feeling that you’re right there with someone else. Watching other people’s expressions and gestures, enjoying little side chats in a synchronous social VR experience, it’s just inimitable. There’s simply nothing else like it.

And, in the case of Space Explorers, VR gives us a way to feel something that is otherwise totally out of reach. Despite public-private partnerships and a new age of commercial space exploration, realistically a trip to space is something most people will never get to experience in their lifetime. And that enormity, the quintessential alienness of space is just so hard to communicate through traditional media. You can watch a documentary and see the pale blue dot floating by, but VR is the only technology we have today that lets you feel even a fragment of what an astronaut might feel when confronted by the sheer vastness of the cosmos and the relatively small part humanity has to play in it.

What I love so much about our partnership with Felix & Paul Studios is that it’s not just about impressive, awe-inspiring shots. Obviously, you’re going to have breathtaking images, but there’s going to be intention and emotion behind it. Rather than just showing you beautiful immersive content, Felix & Paul Studios tells these incredibly engaging stories. Take Traveling While Black for example. It’s such an important documentary because it transports you to another time and place—to a different society. You can feel the fear and the disenchantment of the moment. That combination of incomparable imagery, a strong sense of place, and visceral storytelling, that’s where the true power of VR lies.

Of course, this is no easy feat. The challenges to deliver a compelling narrative-driven experience filmed in space are immense. Felix & Paul Studios have filmed under the harshest possible conditions. The complexities and considerations for building a custom VR camera that can film in space aren’t far removed from building a miniature spaceship. You need to build in resistance to radiation, resistance to small asteroids—it’s orders of magnitude harder than filming at the ocean’s depths. And with the sheer amount of time that goes into a project like this, you’re devoting a significant chunk of your life to it. There’s a certain degree of audacity and tenacity that goes hand-in-hand with Felix & Paul’s commitment to this monumental and momentous storytelling effort.

VR still has a long way to go, but I think the people lucky enough to have access to this technology today are going to experience something truly magical tomorrow—something that a lot of people have never felt before. Alone, we cannot summon the future. But together, we can go boldly into it. And I think that’s worth celebrating.

Tune in to the livestream of the historic Artemis I launch, August 29 at 4:30 am PT. From Horizon Worlds, travel to the Venues Hub. Once there, head to the building for Artemis Ascending. You can also search for the event from the Horizon Worlds main menu. Create your Meta account to RSVP and attend the event.

After the event, check out Space Explorers Agora—a new space-themed world in Horizon Worlds from Felix & Paul Studios. And if you’re looking for even more space-related content, watch Space Explorers: The ISS Experience and an extended version of Spacewalkers—a Space Explorers special feature highlighting the first-ever spacewalk to be captured in cinematic VR—in Oculus TV or together with friends in Horizon Home.

*Horizon Worlds is available to people 18+ in the US, Canada, the UK, Iceland, Ireland, France, and Spain.