‘Gravity’ Myths: Is Sandra Bullock Space Flick Scientifically Accurate?
Gravity opened in theaters last weekend to rave reviews and over $50 million in ticket sales – but though the film’s entertainment value is unquestionable, its scientific voracity definitely is, according to experts.
One major part of the plot of Gravity has to do with George Clooney’s character Matt Kowalski’s using a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). It’s presence and application, according to Discover Magazine’s Corey S. Powell was woefully inaccurate. “The MMU was abandoned by NASA after the Challenger disaster because it was seen as too dangerous. The only flying suit in use today is a little emergency pack called SAFER, which carries just 3 pounds of nitrogen propellant,” Powell said. “Contrary to what you see on screen, NASA would not allow untethered flight even with a flight suit. And certainly no self-respecting astronaut would go stunt-flying around delicate equipment, using up all his propellant, as Kowalski does.”
Powell also makes it known that space suits carry quite a bit more oxygen than is depicted on screen in Gravity: “The standard Space Station suit carries 8 hours of oxygen, plus a 30 minute reserve.”
Among the many departures from reality in the Alfonso Cuaron-directed Gravity was the attire Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan Stone had on beneath her flight suit when she stripped it off upon entering the cabin. “What an astronaut returning from what NASA calls extavehicular activity (EVA) would have on under her pressure suit would be what’s known as a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment, a full-body, crazily complex bit of space finery that has about 300 ft. (91 m) of fashionable plastic tubing running through it,” said Time Magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger. “She’d also be wearing an adult diaper and would be wringing with sweat.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium pointed out a number of questionable aspects of the hit space film on Twitter: Ryan Stone’s profession as a medical engineer, locations of the three space stations references, the capabilities of a single tug in space, Bullock’s hair in zero gravity, the direction of the orbit of debris.
Mysteries of #Gravity: Why Bullock, a medical Doctor, is servicing the Hubble Space Telescope.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
Mysteries of #Gravity: How Hubble (350mi up) ISS (230mi up) & a Chinese Space Station are all in sight lines of one another.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
Mysteries of #Gravity: When Clooney releases Bullock's tether, he drifts away. In zero-G a single tug brings them together.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
Mysteries of #Gravity: Why Bullock's hair, in otherwise convincing zero-G scenes, did not float freely on her head.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
Mysteries of #Gravity: Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east yet all satellite debris portrayed orbited east to west— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
Though deGrasse Tyson had a number of grievances concerning Gravity’s accuracy, he – like both experts Kluger and Powell – could not deny enjoying it as a film.
My Tweets hardly ever convey opinion. Mostly perspectives on the world. But if you must know, I enjoyed #Gravity very much.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 7, 2013
It’s worth mentioning that Gravity’s filmmakers have made no pretenses about the historic or scientific accuracy of what they put together in the script and in the visual effects of their movie. They knew that the likelihood of a planned shootout of a satellite creating a Kessler Syndrome was small; they knew that the distance between the space stations is far greater than represented; they knew that the MMU was no longer in use. Cuaron and his team set out to make an unforgettable and affecting movie about space and succeeded – even the nitpicking scientists won’t dispute that fact.
Gravity is currently in wide release.
– Chelsea Regan
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