ISS Astronaut Uses Oculus Rift in Experiment to Understand How Space Affects Hand-eye Coordination


German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is participating in a study aboard the International Space Station (ISS) that’s designed to give Earth-bound researchers a better understanding of how sight, sound, and gravity impacts hand-eye coordination. Using a modified Oculus Rift, Gerst isn’t strapping in for fun and games though (even if Echo VR or Space Junkies would take on a whole new level of immersion).

The French study, dubbed Gravitational References for Sensimotor Performance (GRASP), is headed by Dr. Joe McIntyre of the French National Center for Scientific research. The ISS study is a part of his wider work on Sensori-motor Adaptations and Vestibular Pathologies.

Training with the GRASP VR system back on Earth, Image courtesy ESA

“We address ques­tions on spa­tial ori­en­ta­tion, a sys­tem-lev­el top­ic, by study­ing its under­ly­ing func­tion­al and struc­tur­al deter­mi­nants in ani­mal mod­els, as well as by ana­lyz­ing human behav­ior on earth and in space. We rely on a wide range of exper­i­men­tal approach­es, using both ani­mal and humans, and we care­ful­ly tie togeth­er these dif­fer­ent lev­els of inves­ti­ga­tion in an over­reach­ing frame­work,” the team says.

First used by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet aboard the ISS during his mission in 2016, the modified Rift has been retrofitted with a custom infrared tracking rig that fits over the headset itself and integrated into a custom controller. An infrared sensor unit is also worn around the waist, which likely provides a better model of his hand’s position relative to Gerst’s body.

Image courtesy ESA

“Armed with an enhanced understanding of the physiology behind hand-eye coordination, researchers will be better able to treat disorders relating to vertigo and dizziness, balance, spatial orientation and other aspects of the vestibular system,” the ESA says in a statement. “It will also be helpful in guiding astronauts during spacewalks and developing the most effective ways of controlling robots remotely.

AR Content is Coming to Google Maps, But It Won't Matter Until There's a Headset to See it Through

The ISS has played host to many cutting edge consumer devices used for research, including former station commander Scott Kelly’s time with HoloLens, which was meant to explore the possibility of instructing astronauts on real-time issues.

In an interesting turn of events, Earth-bound users can also explore their own personal VR recreations of the ISS, both through the International Space Station Tour VR on Steam (Vive, Rift) and through Mission: ISS on Oculus Home (Rift).

This article may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product we may receive a small commission which helps support the publication. See here for more information.

Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • NooYawker

    The ultimate room scale play space.

  • apoc1138

    Dear Scott, please learn the difference between “effect” and “affect”.

  • Peter Hansen

    PR stunt?