What do you get when you combine a roller coaster that makes you feel like you’re flying with a virtual reality system that makes you think you’re traveling through outer space? If you said “sick,” you may want to avoid the new ride at the Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire, England, called the Galactica. It’s being billed as the world’s first actual roller coaster ride to incorporate virtual reality. It opens in April, but if it lives up to its hype, the lines may be forming already.
The Galactica is an upgrade of an earlier coaster ride called the “Air” which is a steel flying roller coaster – that means riders are suspended below the track and facing forward in a prone position to simulate flying like Superman (only without being able to extend your arms or reverse the spin of the Earth).
The Air coaster has been modified to allow riders to wear virtual reality goggles programmed for space flight simulation. Here’s how the promotional material describes the sensation:
[The ride is] a mesmerizing journey through the wonders of space.[Riders will] fly across heavenly clouds on the Great Orion Nebula, lava lakes on Nero 5, frozen landscapes on Kepler 9, and even witness the birth of a new star.
That’s some ride. For the queasy, the VR software is supposed to stay perfectly synchronized with the ride, the harnesses limit all body movements and the large VR goggles are designed to feel like they’re not even there.
Here’s some technical data. The ride is 189 seconds (3 minutes 9 seconds) long; riders will hit a maximum speed of 75km/h (47 mph) and experience a maximum 3.5 Gs; the track is 840 m (2,755 ft) long and the highest drop is 20 m (66 ft).
Alton Towers is hoping the new ride alters another reality … concerns over safety. Park attendance suffered after the Air coaster (without VR) got stuck last July and trapped dozens of riders face-down for 20 minutes. A different coaster (the Smiler) had a collision last June (blamed on an operator error) that injured 14 people and resulted in two women having legs amputated. That coaster is scheduled to reopen with added safety features in April.
What do you think? Would you take a ride on the Galactica? Will you wait for Galactica 2.0 that will simulate traveling through outer space without the people you came to the park with?