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#SpaceWatchGL Opinion: Eyes on the Sky on its way to SXSW 2021

by Erin Reilly

We have submitted our project to SXSW 2021. We’d love it if you’d VOTE UP our panel so we can be chosen to participate on this global stage and gain more interest in this project.

As Extended Reality technologies continue to grow exponentially and recent studies suggest learning enhancement through virtual reality use (1), the University of Texas at Austin has developed the birth of the world’s first immersive experience focused on space environmentalism and sustainability:

We rely on satellites for cable and network television, GPS navigation systems, climate and environmental monitoring, and space exploration (2). However, did you know that NASA has identified micrometeoroids and orbital debris as “the number one risk for NASA’s human spaceflight programs?” Space exploration is in jeopardy from millions of tiny bits of metal: space debris or “space junk”. In the next five years, US companies alone plan to launch an additional 20,000 satellites. For humanity to continue to benefit from space services, we have to change our ways significantly.

ASTRIA screenshot

Moriba Jah, professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and a specialist in orbital mechanics, compares navigating space junk to crossing an interstate highway with a blind-fold on: we don’t know what and when something will hit. Professor Jah has created which tracks 26,000 satellites and objects that orbit the Earth. However, more needs to be done. It is increasingly likely that a space collision will happen within the next decade if the dangers of space debris aren’t resolved. Public understanding of the space junk crisis and increased awareness and regulation from our elected officials is crucial.

Eyes on the Sky is an immersive experience which will increase awareness of the dangers of space junk and take participants on an interactive and emotional journey. The 20-minute story begins with an introduction to your guide, Moriba Jah, who is conducting important research and wants to share it with you. You travel together to the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, watch the night sky come to life with stories of our ancestors, meet friends on the International Space Station and catch a glimpse of the future – a future you have a part to play in.

This exhibit will engage eight participants at once in the immersive SkyDome, with a goal of 10,000 people visiting per year. The Mixed Reality experience combines physical and digital assets, with a combination of projection mapping and cutting-edge extended reality technology, creating an unparalleled interactive and emotional experience. Uniting six of the leading researchers and professors from University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, Moody College of Communication, and the College of Fine Arts, Eyes on the Sky’s goal is to increase public awareness and foster a new sustainable development goal recognized by the United Nations. Eyes on the Sky desires for hearts, minds, and eyes to look upward, protecting and preserving our Earth and space for generations to come.



Erin Reilly; Photo courtesy of the author

Erin Reilly is the inaugural Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Moody College. Erin is an entrepreneur, educator and strategist with 20 years of experience inventing new approaches, products, services and experiences about storytelling, engagement and learning through emergent technology. Erin is Board President of NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education), and serves on the Executive Committee of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Interactive Media Peer Group, as well as advisory boards, such as Disney Junior and PBS Emmy-award winning Sci Girls. As an educator, Erin currently is Professor of Practice and Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for Moody College of Communication at University of Texas at Austin. In her roles, she designs and teaches courses on the future of media and entertainment, builds university-wide initiatives and fosters relationships with other academic institutions and industry partners. She has authored both academic and industry publications including Headspace VR on Medium, Fan Favorites in Strategy + Business, T is for Transmedia: Learning through Transmedia Play, and co-author of the book, Reading in a Participatory Culture.As an entrepreneur, Erin founded ReillyWorks to creatively build connected experiences for families to get active and play together.  Erin was a founding member of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab holding the positions of Managing Creative Director and Research Fellow. Before that, she was Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at MIT and also has conducted classes as a Visiting Lecturer at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies and Harvard University’s Project Zero Summer Institute.  She is a graduate of Emerson College and has her Master of Fine Arts degree from Maine Media Workshops + College.

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