How a virtual-reality headset will help astronaut Thomas Pesquet exercise in space

·2-min read
Technology developed by Fit Immersion makes it feel like you're cycling the streets of Paris, even if you happen to be in space.

Thomas Pesquet is set to trial a virtual reality based system giving him the impression of cycling France's roads while he's 400 km above Earth in the International Space Station. The French astronaut is scheduled to blast off for the ISS April 22, 2021, for a new six-month mission.

In between experiments, Thomas Pesquet will also need to take care of himself, ensuring he maintains as much of his muscle mass as possible before returning to Earth. For that, he counts on exercising and, in particular, cycling. As he pedals, new technology will give the astronaut the impression of cycling on planet Earth, thanks to a virtual reality headset (Oculus Quest) and technology developed by the French startup Fit Immersion.

Each day, members of the ISS spend around two hours exercising, which is essential for maintaining their muscles in the weightless environment. Now, virtual reality offers new perspectives and can help make this activity more attractive.

The idea is to be able to exercise -- or simulate the experience of exercising -- like on Earth, even when you're far away in space. The technology used simulates a cycle route on real-world roads. So, if all goes to plan, Thomas Pesquet will be able to enjoy the sweet sensation of pedaling through the streets of Paris or even Saint Petersburg, as well as scaling the Col de la Gineste near Marseille -- all while over 400 km above Earth. Each session lasts around 30 minutes.

The French startup Fit Immersion specializes in sports entertainment based on 360-degree video recording of the real-world environment. This technology effectively makes it possible to "teleport" users into simulated real-world environments while doing physical exercise. As well as the headset, Thomas Pesquet will have all kinds of special equipment to record and track performance, including pedals with a power sensor.

Note that this will be one of the 12 French experiments operated by Thomas Pesquet for the French Space Agency's Center for the Development of Microgravity Applications and Space Operations (CADMOS), as part of this latest mission.

David Bénard