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
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.
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.
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.
3. Kowalski’s equipment is outdated
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.”
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.”
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.
“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 Cuarón, 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.”