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NASA Is Offering Free Virtual Tours of Space

Explore the TRAPPIST-1 star system, International Space Station, and NASA facilities for an inside look at life as an astronaut.

Hubble Space Station | Courtesy of NASA

Whether you're self-isolating from a 400-square foot studio apartment or your rich parents' suburban mansion, at some point or another you'll find yourself desperate to escape the confines of your quarantine lifestyle. The good news? You can do so without risking your health or that of others. Virtually tour the world's most iconic museums, historic landmarks, or somewhere that was off-limits before the stay-at-home orders were even instituted: outer space. 

NASA has curated a collection of digital space experiences, so you can explore the TRAPPIST-1 star system, international space station, and planets outside of our solar system

Here are the best virtual tours: 

Commercial Crew Program 360-Degree VR Tour

NASA's Commercial Crew Program, aka the CCP, has the task of enlisting private vendors to build the rockets and spacecrafts needed to transport astronauts to and from the international space station. Now, you explore the very places where such innovation was born, taking a digital field trip to the Boeing and SpaceX facilities where much of the technology was developed and tested for flight. 

"Go for Flight"

Users can explore NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in California from the comforts of their own couches, with the 3-D Google Expeditions tour through the main administrative building, aircraft hangar, Dryden Aeronautical Range control room, and where final prep for flight begins, the back-ramp area. 

"Before any of our flight research projects take to the air, the talented people from so many different groups and organizations contribute to making it possible," NASA Armstrong's chief of Strategic Communications Kevin Rohrer said on the site. "This latest segment of our virtual tour highlights some of the key areas."  

You can download the app through the App Store or Google Play store

"Next Stop: The Stratosphere"

NASA is now offering a full digital tour of its flight observatory SOFIA, a Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 106-inch diameter telescope allowing scientists to study the stars, galaxy black holes, and more while flying between 38,000 to 45,000 feet. Users can explore the main deck, flight deck, and mission control center -- aka where the telescope operators, scientists, and mission directors work and gather their observations. 

Again, you'll need the Google Expeditions app for this one but luckily it's available on both Apple and Android-powered devices.

Exoplanet Travel Bureau

Get 360-degree views of exoplanet surfaces, like Kepler-16b and 55 Cancri e. Doing so is really easy too -- the tour is available on desktop and mobile

Hubble Space Telescope mission operations center

You can get a 360-degree view of the Space Telescope Operations Control Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center where the Hubble Space Telescope is located. You'll start out in the lobby for a quick lesson on the orbiting spacecraft, check out the mission operations room, and explore the operations support room.

You can check it all out directly on the site, but make sure to install the latest version of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, or MS Edge for the best function. 

NASA's Exoplanet Excursions 

NASA offers a number of ways to explore the TRAPPIST-1 star system, but one of the most accessible routes is its Exoplanet Excursions 360 tour on Youtube. The immersive virtual adventure will take you through the 7 earth-sized exoplanets that are orbiting a star larger than Jupiter. You'll learn everything scientists have gathered on what these worlds are like -- from size and density to environment and water capacity.

International Space Station

The organization's virtual adventure through the International Space Station is led by astronaut Suni Williams, who takes viewers through a guided tour of the observation deck, Russian segment, crew's sleeping quarters and hygiene station, the Destiny, Kibo, and Columbus laboratory modules. It's all accessible on the site.

NASA Facilities

Wanna play astronaut and venture through NASA's facilities? You can do that too. The organization allows users to tour its Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center, and Stennis Space Center.

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.