Fact checking Gravity: Space expert gives it a thumbs up

Gravity: Do they get the science right in the new action film Gravity?
Gravity: Do they get the science right in the new action film Gravity?Courtesy Wikipedia
Film goers will have the chance to travel through space this weekend with the blockbuster movie "Gravity" hitting the theaters. Its a ficticious story about two American astronauts dealing with disaster during a space shuttle mission.

I've come to expect Hollywood to place loose and easy with actual science when it comes to movies with scientific themes. And then today I stumbled upon this article in Time by Jeffrey Kluger, the co-author, with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, which was the basis of the Apollo 13 movie released in 1995.

He applies his extensive space knowledge to fact check what's depicted in the new George Clooney/Sandra Bullock film. Here's his analytical summary: "So, that’s a lot that Gravity gets wrong. But you know what? So what? The shuttle, space station and spacesuits are painstakingly recreated; the physics of moving about in space—thrusts requiring counterthrusts, spins requiring counterspins, the hideous reality that if you do go spiraling off into the void your rotation never, never stops—are all simulated beautifully, scarily and accurately."

Click on the link above to get detailed analysis of what's scientifically right and wrong with Gravity.

Have you seen the film? What do you think about its accuracy in portraying the science of living and traveling in space?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Michael Morgan's picture
Michael Morgan says:

I just saw the film. I was underwhelmed, and that's a rave review. I'll get to the science goofs in a sec, but first: I should have known....Clooney is "secretly" angling for retirement from his acting career, and he does this by carrying his characteristic clownish attitude into a "life or death" spacewalk scenario. There's even an ipecac moment in which he supposedly self-deprecatingly mentions his 'devastating' good looks. But all the generous helpings of corn could be stomached if it weren't for the added demention (new word) of pseudo-science.

Forget inaccurate orbit angles.....the special effects go to great lengths to impress the natural lack of resistance to free motion in the "weightless" and airless environment of low earth orbit: uncontrolled spins, untethered drifting, momentary tether yanks, rocket propulsion techniques, etc.

Then, suddenly, the special effects version of outer space gets all sentimental toward Clooney and instantaneously provides a sustained tugging force on the spacewalk tethers which forces a static Clooney to sacrifice himself for static space babe Bullock (cue tears beading and floating off otherwise dry cheeks). It's like Cliffhanger, only without the cliff. Simple, right?

And then there's the curious substitution of a chain-reaction sequence of colliding satellites (not entirely impossible at a given orbit alitude) for conventional high explosives: we see not merely increasing entropy, but energy gains with every successive impact.

Bottom line? Stuff kind of really tends to like, explode in, like, space. Y'know?

posted on Sat, 10/05/2013 - 12:11am
dennisnovak's picture
dennisnovak says:

aside from there being no good reason for G Clooney to float away from Bullock once they were unteathered .... wouldn't the space junk, travelling at a much higher velocity than the shuttlecraft/soyuz/heroes of the story, tend to settle into a much higher orbit than all that slower stuff? I can see it hitting them as the result of the initial explosion (though that's kinda unlikely), but I can't see it being in the same orbit the 2nd time around.

posted on Sun, 10/06/2013 - 4:07pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

Here's another analysis of "Gravity" from a former astronaut who has been in space four separate times: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/mark-kelly-gives-an-astron...

posted on Mon, 10/14/2013 - 11:27am
Annika's picture
Annika says:

As a physicist, I'm sorry, but I can't get over the blatant ignoring of some laws of physics while adhering fairly well to others. Specifically the number of times they slammed - hard - into satellites and debris floating around them. I can name several times within the first fifteen minutes where they would have died due to high speed collisions. Sorry, but no.

posted on Fri, 08/28/2015 - 11:52am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options