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Air force tests calming power of virtual nature

Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force stationed at the world’s northernmost permanently inhabited location, Canadian Forces Station Alert in Nunavut, are testing a virtual reality system that could help maintain the sanity of astronauts on long voyages to Mars or beyond.

The project, led by former United States astronaut Jay Buckley, now at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, is testing whether simulated natural beauty can relive the psychological stress of life in isolated and unnatural surrounding, such as in Arctic bases and spacecraft.

The participants will be immersed in wilderness scenes from New Hamshire, Australia and Ireland, as well as a virtual version of the English seaside village of Wembury in Devon. They will be asked to rate the scenes for their realism and immersion, which scenes the preferred, and how they affected their mood. The virtual reality program could also be useful in other settings, such as intensive care units.

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