By: Ron McCandless

Ron McCandless is an aerospace engineer and the founder of Lunar Experiences, a gaming company that aims to bring the experience of space to the public through virtual reality technology. By creating a realistic, immersive environment for users to interact with, he envisions inspiring the next generation through the wonders of space exploration.

Excitement for space exploration is on the rise and an increasing number of people are streaming launches and engaging on social media with the Mars rover and other missions. But only a very select few will get the opportunity to experience space travel first-hand—either as highly qualified astronauts or as paying space tourists. If you don’t have at least $250,000 to queue up for a Virgin or Blue Origin tourist flight around the Earth, or hundreds of millions of dollars (like entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa) to have SpaceX fly you and your friends around the Moon, you’re currently out of luck.

What we need is a way to enable anyone to experience the excitement and inspiration of space exploration for the cost of a nice night out on the town. That’s what Lunar Experiences plans to do, using gaming technology and a combination of virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) platforms to bring space to those on Earth—and to help the nascent space tourism industry. Consider playing a game with your friends on the lunar surface using actual spacecraft footage. Or piloting a spaceflight around the Moon as a pre-mission training exercise. How about controlling rovers and drones on the lunar surface via teleoperation from the comfort of your family room, helping to explore challenging underground lava tubes where astronauts might one day live. These off-world experiences can be simulated using real data from the Moon sent by coming private missions using laser communications technology, and smartly processed for various simulations, games, racing and other similar experiences.

4812251745_eba00cc72c_bLunar Experiences is building a multitude of capabilities to accomplish these long-term goals. The best way to start, however, is testing these technologies and experiences here on Earth.

Situated on a lunar-like surface and with nearby lava tubes, the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog Simulation) habitat is a great location to test our partner rover and drone technologies, and to simulate tele-operation while recruiting gamers as potential future controllers. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing coming this summer, Lunar Experiences is partnering with PISCES and others to engage space enthusiasts and gamers, and test out rovers from Cuberover of Pittsburgh, PA and drones from the University of Arizona’s SpaceTREx Lab. HI-SEAS provides a remote, yet safe environment where we can not only test these technologies that are one part of our long-term vision, but involve the public using games and social media.

In celebration of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins visiting the Moon, this summer we’ll be looking forward to a time when humans, rovers, robots and drones will all work together on the Moon while involving people back on Earth as participants through advanced virtual reality. This is the future that we intend to build, starting with our partners at PISCES and at HI-SEAS.