Destination: ISM

Grid: Second Life

The Rocket Ring

Given I’ve written about my very tenuous link to the space shuttle Endeavour, I thought that for this instalment of Destination: I’d take a look at the International Spaceflight Museum (ISM).

ISM is perhaps one of the most famous destinations in Second Life and a fabulous example of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work on the part of a group of enthusiasts. Starting modestly on the sim of Spaceport Alpha, the ISM now covers two sims – Alpha and Bravo, and forms the hub of a group of (non-affiliated) sims dedicated to science, the environment, technology and space – including NASA’s own CoLab sim. The museum and its sims are overseen by the ISM Corporation, a Kansas, USA, non-profit organisation currently seeking 501c3 tax exemption with the US IRS.

ISM arrival: LEO

As one would expect from a long-established SL facility that tackles such an engaging and absorbing subject as the exploration of space, ISM is exceptionally well-thought out. Use the main LM (from Search), and you’ll find yourself in low Earth orbit, standing on a platform with the glorious arc of the Earth below you and the magnificent and somehow delicate form of the International Space Station overhead, complete with space shuttle (the Endeavour!) and two Soyuz craft docked with it, while a European Automated Transfer Vehicle makes its final approach to dock. Also hanging in space beside the station, a little incongruously, is the Hubble Space Telescope.

Trivia quiz plinth

The first thing that strikes you on arriving – after the magnificence of the display around you, is the sheer care that has been put into things. Around the walkway are hovertext icons, carefully positioned so they don’t intrude on your wanderings, but which provide a wealth of information. Additionally, each of the models in the exhibit is accompanied by a clickable plaque that will take you to a dedicated, multi-lingual wiki page that provides detailed information on the exhibit.

Also located on the platform is the main teleport unit / ISM map, and the first station in the museum’s Trivia Quiz. In this, you collect game cards by answering questions on space and space exploration. Cards can be redeemed at the ISM gift shop (or that’s the theory; to be honest, I’ve never found the object used to redeem the cards – but the quiz is still fun).

Travel to the Planets

The teleporter will carry you to any of the planets in the solar system, where you can find out more out our celestial neighbours and any space missions that have visited them. It’s actually while on the solar system tour that things get very slightly irritating.

On the surface of Mars

While the exhibits are informative and well laid-out, the fact is that once you’re away from the arrival area, it’s pretty hard to get off the tour – there are no “return” teleport points. So if you opt to hop directly to, say, Mars, finding your way back to Earth, Venus or Mercury is a tad difficult.

Each of the displays exists in its own sphere or cube, with (again), plenty of information to absorb as you admire them. Were I to pick a favourite, it would be Mars – but then that planet has always held a mystical fascination for me – simply because you can pay a visit to the surface of our oft-visited neighbour in space.

The Pluto / Charon display, ostensibly marking the “end” of the solar system, allows you to take a peek at some of our nearest interstellar neighbours as it includes a three-dimensional model of our corner of the galaxy, complete with clickable stars!

Jupiter (left) and the Galilean moons; Saturn (right) and the Cassini / Huygens mission

The Pluto / Charon display also appears to offer a novel way of moving on in your explorations: a parachute to get you down to the ground! This is something of a novel approach, to be sure, but as I have my own chute, I strapped it on and stepped off the edge of the catwalk only to splat myself on the ground as the lag prevented my chute from opening in time. Ah, well.

Feet on the ground – head in the clouds

Fortunately, no-one ever dies in SL, so after picking myself up and dusting myself down in the hope that no-one noticed, I found myself in the middle of the Rocket Ring. Here you can learn about all the rockets ever flown – and some that never did or have yet to take to the skies. In the centre of the garden is the ISM theatre, which frequently hosts talks on space flight, space exploration, astronomy and the like, and which broadcasts a NASA TV fee during space missions. Under the Rocket Ring you can find a wealth of other information – some of which may help you with questions from the 2nd Trivia Quiz plinth, which also can be found here as well.

Not all the displays are static, either – you can, for example you can ride atop a Titan II rocket in a Gemini capsule into outer space, our climb aboard a space shuttle and have a look around. You can also visit the Planetarium and take in a show. And if you don’t fancy trudging around the sims, try taking the tour ride – just make sure you can get seated before the vehicle moves off!

Spaceship 1, The Shuttle and Spaceport Bravo

Across the water, in Spaceport Bravo (be a little careful around the sim boundary, the crossing can be rough) sit replicas of some of the more famous buildings from America’s Kennedy Space Centre – including the imposing bulk of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Here you can see the huge Saturn V rocket, used to launch men to the Moon, find out about other hardware, past and present…and complete another part of the Trivia Quiz. Atop the Vehicle Assembly Building is the observation deck; turn your draw distance up and enjoy the view (just be sure to notch it back down again to reduce the lag when you leave).

While the ISM is not officially linked to or affiliated with NASA, it is bounded on two sides by NASA sims: NASA CoLab and the Explorer sim, operated by NASA / JPL. Both of these are well worth a look around as a part of your visit.

There are some problems with the museum, lag being perhaps the biggest. There are 14,229 prims scattered around the sim in dozens of exhibits and buildings – that’s a lot of drawing for your Viewer to handle. There are also information givers, web page redirectors, scripted vehicles and displays, all of which contribute to the server-side load. Given this, lag is understandable, and because of it – while it is tempting to pump up Draw as far as possible to see everything – I’d recommend that, unless you have a super high-end system, you keep draw turned down while moving around, and slide it back up while looking at individual exhibits on the ground. I’d also advise you limit your flying; the lag can make this a questionable activity – you can easily hit a sim boundary without warning as the lag grabs you, and end up rubber-banding hither and thither or getting unceremoniously dumped on another sim.

Away from the in-world experience, the ISM website offers a wealth of information on the museum, those responsible for it, what is going on in terms of upcoming events and a whole host of other information and news. The site is extremely well presented with excellent navigation. Of equal use is the ISM Wiki – reached via any of the in-world exhibit plaques. While this can interrupt the immersive experience while actually touring the ISM, it contains masses of information that is well-worth a look-in – and it does so in multiple languages, providing everyone with a chance to delve into it.

ISM website and wiki

Overall, ISM is one of the best attractions put together within Second Life. Whether you are a space enthusiast or just casually interested in taking a look, it has a lot to offer and represents an immersive and educational experience. The “wow!” factor tends to be high, and the exhibits are stunning both for the care and detail that has gone into their construction, and because of what they represent; the exploration of space and our understanding of the universe around us are truly awe-inspiring. And the ISM delivers much of that awe directly to your monitor screen.

But don’t just take my word for it – go pay a visit yourself!

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