Coronavirus lockdown can make you want to leave the planet — here's how you can explore Mars, Jupiter or even leave the solar system


  • Cabin fever may be getting you down but now you have the option to leave the planet — from the comfort of your home.
  • Google has collaborated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on a number of virtual tours that let you explore outer space in 3D.
  • You can walk around the mission control centers here at home, or you can explore the cosmos — heading out beyond the solar system.
The lockdown has most people going through cabin fever, and some people are wishing that could leave the planet. That plan has two problems. One, the kind of spacecraft that would be needed to evacuate everyone on Earth — like the Axiom in Walle-E — doesn’t quite exist yet.

Second of all, even if we could get everyone off the planet — there’s nowhere to go as the hunt of another Earth-like planet to support human life is still on. As the world waits on Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos to set up off-planet silos on either Mars or the Moon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Google set up virtual tours to give you a taste of what life could be like in outer space.

From the Moon to Mars to leaving the solar system behind entirely — here are a few ways you can leave the planet without having to leave your home:
Advertisement

{{}}

​Go for Flight — a sneak-peek into being a astronaut from the Armstrong Flight Research Center

​Go for Flight — a sneak-peek into being a astronaut from the Armstrong Flight Research Center

NASA launched Go for Flight in 2018, which allows people to tour the Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) without being an astronaut or travelling all the way to the US. The 3-D virtual tour is available through Google Expeditions — an simple app that you can download on your phone.

On the tour you can see the Dale Reed Flight Research Laboratory, X-57 flight simulator, the AFRC engine shop, the Dryden Aeronautical Range room and, finally, the center’s aircraft ramp.

Essentially, it’s a walk through of what it would be like to be an astronaut — before you actually take off from Earth. Everything from how a mission in space would be monitored on Earth, the gear needed before take-off and the subsequent launch.

​SOFIA Boeing 747P aircraft let’s you cruise the stratosphere

​SOFIA Boeing 747P aircraft let’s you cruise the stratosphere

The next stop on your journey to being an astronaut is getting on board an actual spacecraft— and the SOFIA Boeing 747P’s virtual tour lets you do just that.

SOFIA isn’t a satellite or a station up in space. It’s an actual aircraft which conducts 10 hour flights to try and figure out how stars form, what the atmosphere is like on other planets, the evolution of black holes and other mysteries of the universe.

Every time it takes to the air, it can fly up 38,000 to 45,000 feet in the air with an 106 inch wide telescope on board.

As virtual tourists, you’ll have the unique advantage of circling around the outside of the aircraft — and getting a look inside.

Advertisement

​Isolation at home versus isolation in space

​Isolation at home versus isolation in space

Astronauts are the original keepers of self-isolation. In fact, it’s a part of their training to adapt to spending lots of time alone — especially since being in space for months on end can be frustrating without the right mindset.

NASA’s astronaut Sunita Williams can take you for a tour of the International Space Station, which is just outside of Earth’s orbit and how things work when you’re up there.

​Calling Mars to Houston

​Calling Mars to Houston

If Earth’s orbit isn’t far enough, you can always take a stroll across Mars. Even NASA scientists use the Access Mars virtual tour when they want to explore the Red Planet’s landscape. It’s even better if you have a virtual reality or augmented reality headset.

As long as you have an internet connection that works, you can take a walk on Mars while also learning about how the Curiosity rover works its magic through Google Expeditions.

Advertisement

​Sail beyond the solar system with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope

​Sail beyond the solar system with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope

Even the solar system may not be big enough to get away from Coronavirus. In which case, you can look beyond the borders and explore exo-planets instead — but it will require a little more effort.

For NASA’s ‘Exoplanet Excursions’ or ‘Spitzer Final Voyage’ VR experiences you’ll need a headset. However, if you don’t own one, you can always hop on YouTube and check out the narrated tour — but it’s not nearly the same level of awe and surprise.

The tour will guide you through the TRAPPIST-1 star system where 7 Earth-sized exoplanets are orbiting a single star, which is only a little bigger than Jupiter.

If internet connectivity is an issue, NASA has 4K and 8K versions of the tour in MP4 format that you can download from the site.

​Exoplanet Travel Bureau — your guide to exploring outer space from home

​Exoplanet Travel Bureau — your guide to exploring outer space from home

NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau has been set up to let you explore exoplanets outside the solar system as a click of button. Candidates like 51 Pegasi B, which was the first exoplanet to be discovered and the Super Earth HD 40307g only have posters up for grabs. But for others like Kepler 16-b and 55 Cancri E, you can drop on to the surface and see what life may be life on the planet up close.

Be warned, you may just end up standing in an ocean of lava.

Advertisement

​Go planet hunting

​Go planet hunting

You might be able to find new planets without access to actual imagery from satellites, but NASA has a nice set up where you can explore five ways that real astronomers look for new worlds.

From what it looks like to search for shadows to looking for minuscule movements in the darkness, NASA’s gives you a deep dive into what it looks like to go planet hunting.

​Keep it simple with Google Earth

​Keep it simple with Google Earth

Google Earth lets you decide your own path. They tech giants recently introduced a whole slew of options like exploring the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies complete with a Star Trek-like whoosh. It makes you feel like you’re actually travelling through space rather than simply zooming in-and-out of a map.

However, these options are only available through the web, not the mobile app

.

Advertisement

​Before you go exploring — remember to put yourself in a spacesuit

​Before you go exploring — remember to put yourself in a spacesuit

While exploring the cosmos is well and good, it’s important that the experience be authentic. NASA has its own selfie app that lets you put yourself in a spacesuit so that you can get the ‘feels’ of being an actual astronaut.