Virginia

Bay Area’s ‘The Infinite’ VR show is tribute to light, space

A few ground rules for life on the International Space Station: You never wear shoes (socks are perfectly fine), and there’s no shame in existing in the midst of clutter.

From my perspective, viewed through immersive virtual reality goggles and headphones in an East Bay warehouse, the astronauts floating above Earth in the space station are shoeless and messy.

I saw corridors crammed with boxes like ice cubes at the bottom of a glass, and wires hanging out of the walls. The casual atmosphere helped me adjust to an otherwise otherworldly experience.

SFGATE travel editor Silas Valentino wears a VR headset as part of "the infinite," an immersive space experience currently housed in the Craneway Pavilion on Richmond's waterfront.

SFGATE Travel Editor Silas Valentino wears a VR headset as part of The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently housed at the Craneway Pavilion on the Richmond waterfront.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Like a ghost of the space station, I watched astronauts float back and forth between their regular duties — growing greenery in space, pumping iron to keep their muscles active, and gazing across continents on the nearby blue planet — and settling on a calculated one leave schedule to maintain them, grounded.

The space station makes 16 orbits around the world in 24 hours. That means the astronauts travel through 16 sunrises and sunsets every day. To maintain their sanity and workload, they stick to a consistent schedule. Sometimes they need a reminder to return to their sleeping chamber, which is attached to the ceiling and straps them down.

254 miles above us, the astronauts are no longer terrestrials, but that doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed their humanity. And it is precisely this connection that is the aim of the exhibition. The VR experience, titled Space Explorers: The Infinite, occupies part of Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion, which was once a Ford assembly plant on the Richmond waterfront.

Astronaut Joseph R. Tanner, STS-115 mission specialist, waves towards the digital still camera of his spacewalk colleague, Astronaut Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, as the two share extravehicular activity (EVA) duties during the first of three scheduled spacewalks.  STS-115 astronauts and Expedition 13 crew members are combining efforts this week to resume construction of the International Space Station.

Astronaut Joseph R. Tanner, STS-115 mission specialist, waves towards the digital still camera of his spacewalk colleague, Astronaut Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, as the two share extravehicular activity (EVA) duties during the first of three scheduled spacewalks. STS-115 astronauts and Expedition 13 crew members are combining efforts this week to resume construction of the International Space Station.


Image courtesy of The Infinite

The Infinite customers will be testing their headsets on Thursday, October 13, 2022 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond.

The Infinite customers will be testing their headsets on Thursday, October 13, 2022 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond.


Charles Russo/SFGATE

SFGATE Culture Editor Dan Gentile wears a VR headset as part of The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently housed at the Craneway Pavilion on the Richmond waterfront, on Thursday October 13, 2022.

SFGATE Culture Editor Dan Gentile wears a VR headset as part of The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently housed at the Craneway Pavilion on the Richmond waterfront, on Thursday October 13, 2022.


Charles Russo/SFGATE

A scene from VR Scenes from The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently on view at the Craneway Pavilion.

A scene from VR Scenes from The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently on view at the Craneway Pavilion.


Image courtesy of The Infinite


Footage from the International Space Station, top left and bottom right, is featured in The Infinite, which attendees view through a VR headset. (Images courtesy of The Infinite & Charles Russo/SFGATE)

The exhibition opened last week and runs until the end of the year, with the possibility of an extension. A joint venture between PHI Studio and Felix & Paul Studios, “Space Explorers: The Infinite” is a traveling circus that uses cutting-edge technology (specifically the Oculus Quest 2 headset) to transport participants inside the space station.

Each person is given a headset, and after a fun introduction—including a voiceover explaining that we’re all a tribute to light and space—you’ll enter a large room with a lightly padded floor. After you’ve settled into your digital imagery, you’ll be taught to avoid the red lines that indicate the barrier and to avoid getting too close to other people.

Jenna Starkey from San Francisco tries on the VR headset "the infinite," an immersive space experience currently housed in the Craneway Pavilion on Richmond's waterfront.

San Francisco’s Jenna Starkey tries on the VR headset at The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently housed at the Craneway Pavilion on the Richmond waterfront.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

The experience is divided into four sections that gently guide you into everyday life on the International Space Station. In the finale, you’ll sit in a theater-like chair, kick back, and watch a spacewalk outside of the station and above Earth.

The experience eventually becomes part Neil Armstrong and part PT Barnum. It’s a dazzling outing and even brought a member of my group to tears when we “returned to earth”.



Adult tickets range from $44 weekdays to $54 weekends, and for children ages 8-12 it’s $24 weekdays and $29 weekends. The experience is wheelchair accessible and lasts approximately one hour.

An advert on the outside of the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond advertises "the infinite," an immersive spatial experience currently housed inside.

An advertisement on the outside of Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion promotes The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently housed inside.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Compared to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin (where a seat on a space flight sold for $28 million in 2021) or Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (for which tickets cost $450,000), the $54 ticket price feels Dollars for “The Infinite” for the rest manageable to us.

The experience is based on the Space Explorers: The ISS Experience series, billed as “the greatest production ever filmed in space,” and its producers are no exaggeration. Felix & Paul Studios partnered with Time Studios to work with the US International Space Station National Laboratory, NASA and five other international space agencies.

The footage you are viewing was shot over three years to compile more than 250 hours of virtual reality footage. The visual glimpses of life in space are broken down into 60 mini-clips that participants activate by hitting a glowing orb. To see all 60 orbs would take at least two hours, and you really only have 35 minutes to spend in the experience – a clever marketing move by the producers to lure visitors back.

Attendees will explore the virtual space at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond "The Infinite" on Oct 13

Participants explore virtual space at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond on October 13 as part of The Infinite.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

The show was designed and built in Montreal. For footage, the producers communicated with NASA in Houston to send instructions to the astronauts on the space station. This was perhaps the most lavish film shoot of all time, and to top it off Canadarm contributed some of the exterior shots from outside the space station.

After the exhibition was completed, it premiered in Montreal in July 2021 and stayed through November 2021. It plans to make stops in three cities per year through 2026. Prior to the Bay Area, the tour made stops in Houston and Tacoma, Washington.

Co-CEO Eric Albert told me it takes three weeks to set up each installation and they hire about 50 people from each city to help run the show. He added that the show is constantly evolving, adding or removing video clips for the orbs.

The Bay Area is the first to see a new September 2019 clip of the astronauts gathering around the dining table on the space station to celebrate one of the crew members of the International Space Station. Astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri from the United Arab Emirates was given a harmonica by one of his crewmates.

Footage courtesy of The Infinite

“Hazza, I know it’s not your birthday,” he begins to say before another astronaut interrupts him.

“Every day is your birthday in space!” she says as the crew floats on in the most peculiar way.

A scene out "the infinite," an immersive space experience currently on view at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond.

A scene from The Infinite, an immersive space experience currently on view at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond.

Image courtesy of The Infinite

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