Skip to main content

5 things that couldn't happen in 'Gravity'

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 6:36 AM EDT, Tue October 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fans love "Gravity," but scientists have found some flaws in the film
  • Space walking is not as easy as the movie makes it look
  • Bullock's character is very skillful

(CNN) -- As far as fans are concerned, "Gravity" is out of this world.

The Sandra Bullock/George Clooney space thriller set an October opening weekend record, surpassing "Paranormal Activity 3's" $52.6 million debut in 2011, according to EW.

Many critics also hailed the film, which centers around characters being set adrift in space. But some in the science community have taken exception to some of the facts presented.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter over the weekend to offer several "Mysteries of #Gravity," including "The film #Gravity should be renamed 'Angular Momentum.' " He points what the film got wrong, from the fact that Bullock's hair didn't free float to why she, as a medical doctor, was on the mission to start with.

Any space between 'Gravity' and reality?
How realistic is 'Gravity'?
What's behind the science of 'Gravity'

So here we offer 5 things that couldn't happen in "Gravity." Word to the wise: Stop reading now if you have an issue with spoilers (Seriously. You have been warned).

1. The way the shuttle travels

NASA expert Michael A. Interbartolo III didn't even have to wait for the film to come out to dispute this. When the trailer premiered, he wrote that the relative motion of the shuttle in the film appears to be off for the chain of events that follow.

"The way I am seeing it, the shuttle was wings level, payload bay up (Z), right wing into the orbital velocity vector (X direction of travel), nose in Y," wrote Interbartolo, who said he flew the shuttle in Mission Control for 11 years. "The Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris [MMOD] (though most were not really micro Meteoroid) impact puts it into a roll about Y with it still traveling in the velocity vector X, and why are the Forward and Aft reaction control jets not firing to damp the ramp since they were intact in the trailer?"

Translation for you non-science types out there: It's more movie magic than actual science that has the shuttle getting smacked with debris and then heading in the direction it is set.

Sandra Bullock keeps defying gravity with her career

2. Rendezvousing in space is not as easy -- or as quick -- as the film makes it appear

Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first mission in space who gets set adrift after an accident. Part of the action involves her trying to make her way back to a fellow astronaut, Clooney's Matt Kowalski. But according to Interbartolo, it's a wonder that Clooney's character doesn't get "shredded" by all the debris floating around after the incident, let alone that the pair manage to link up again.

"If it is just her and Clooney, assuming she somehow got back to him after being flung away on the (Remote Manipulator System) free floating trying to get to the space station without a vehicle, that seems unlikely, unless the two orbits just magically intersect at the exact right time for them to be anywhere near the (International Space Station)," he said.

What Buzz Aldrin thinks of 'Gravity'

3. Kowalski's equipment is outdated

Rocket scientist weighs in on 'Gravity'
Clooney: I'm not interested in space travel

Kowalski flies around on a way-cool jet pack that helps him get to Stone when she is in need. Writing for WRAL's science blog, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program volunteer Tony Rice notes that "The Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) Clooney's character jets around on in the opening scenes does exist but was used only on three early shuttle missions and not since 1984.

"You can see space flown MMUs today hanging above space-flown shuttle orbiters at the Air and Space Museum and Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex," Rice wrote. "The MMU was capable only of short bursts to move astronauts around the shuttle, not crossing distances portrayed in the film and certainly not in the time presented. But it was certainly a cool way to get Bullock and Clooney into the second act."

Read this story or we give away the ending

4. Bullock's astronaut is way more adept than she should be

After all the space walking, being flung around and dodging debris, Bullock's Stone is still able to navigate not just one but two spacecraft from other countries: a Russian Soyuz and a Chinese Shenzhou. It's amazing, given that Stone points out that she was not the best in training on the United States spacecraft.

"She handles both ships with surprising deftness considering she was only lightly trained on the Soyuz and not at all on the Shenzhou," Jeffrey Kluger wrote for Time magazine. "And throughout the movie, she and Clooney spend a fair bit of time getting whacked around in space, grabbing onto this or that rail or tether on the shuttle or ISS only at the last second to avoid pinwheeling off into the void. In truth, pressurized space gloves are murderously hard to manipulate, providing only limited grip at best and leaving astronauts' hands cold and very painful after a day of work. Making the kinds of one-handed Cirque du Soleil catches Clooney and Bullock accomplish would be impossible."

How Bullock prepared for her role

5. The Hubble, the International Space Station and a Chinese space station are not neighbors

In the film, Bullock just needs to hop from space station to space station in order to find a refuge from debris and to make it home to Earth. But as the New York Times pointed out, that's not as easy as it looks.

Photos: Sandra Bullock: America's sweetheart

"As we recall from bitter memory, the Hubble and the space station are in vastly different orbits," Dennis Overbye wrote. "Getting from one to the other requires so much energy that not even space shuttles had enough fuel to do it. The telescope is 353 miles high, in an orbit that keeps it near the Equator; the space station is about 100 miles lower, in an orbit that takes it far north, over Russia."

"To have the movie astronauts Matt Kowalski (Mr. Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Ms. Bullock) zip over to the space station would be like having a pirate tossed overboard in the Caribbean swim to London."

The film's director, Alfonso CuarĂ³n, seemed fully prepared for the criticism after "Gravity's" release.

"This is not a documentary," the director told collectSPACE.com. "It is a piece of fiction."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Science news
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Nichelle Nichols has spent her whole life going where no one has gone before, and at 81 she's still as sassy and straight-talking as you'd expect from an interstellar explorer.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
updated 12:12 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
updated 6:43 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
updated 7:06 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
updated 8:07 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
updated 6:13 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
updated 8:20 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
ADVERTISEMENT