Oct 7 2013 11:05am

Astronauts and Physicists Agree: Gravity is Somewhat Accurate! Also, a Great Movie

Clooney and Bullock in Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity set an October box office record over the weekend, earning $83 million worldwide, with $55.6 million coming from North American theaters. This means that people, some of them American, chose to go out to a pro-science movie about adults with advanced degrees. So, if you’ll give us a moment:


Even better, though is that the movie has started some conversations about life in space. While the film is extraordinary on its own, it would warm all the fuel tanks of our Stubby little heart if Gravity inspired people to get serious about space exploration again. Former moon-walker Buzz Aldrin and America’s leading planetarium enthusiast Neil deGrasse Tyson both weighed in on the film—find their reviews below!

Buzz Aldrin reviewed Gravity for The Hollywood Reporter, saying that he and his fellow astronauts were “probably not as lighthearted as Clooney and Sandra Bullock,” but he loved the way the astronauts moved arond the ship. “It really points out the degree of confusion and bumping into people, and when the tether gets caught, you’re going to be pulled—I think the simulation of the dynamics was remarkable.”

Meanwhile Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter with over a dozen thoughts about the film, most under the tag “Mysteries of #Gravity.” He points out that film should be renamed either “Zero Gravity” or “Angular Momentum,” and then turns more snarky, calling out a moment when “Astronaut Clooney informs medical doctor Bullock what happens medically during oxygen deprivation.” Also, he’s annoyed that Bullock’s hair doesn’t float around more in zero G.

Most importantly, Adrin and Tyson seem to be anti-human extinction. They both used the film to talk about the need for space exploration. Aldrin warned his readers that “We’re in a very precarious position of losing all the advancements we’ve made in space that we did 40 years ago, 50 years ago,” while Tyson wondered “Why we enjoy a SciFi film set in make-believe space more than we enjoy actual people set in real space.” Hopefully a few of the millions of people who turned out to see the film are wondering the same thing, and want to do something about it.

Derek Broughton
1. auspex
Tyson should know better—of course it's Gravity and not Zero Gravity. Orbital physics is all about gravity. Calling it Angular Momentum would just be a way of saying "I understand this stuff better than you."
Thomas Jeffries
2. thomstel
Hey hey now...this thing was a Hollywood will make sequels. Save up those great ideas folks!

Gravity 2: Angular Momentum Boogaloo!
Zero Gravity: A Prequel
Gravity 3: Revenge of the Fallen

Matt Spencer
4. Iarvin
I loved the movie, but to totally nerd out and nitpick the science, I'm pretty sure that Sandra Bollock would have had the bends rather badly after compressing/decompressing so fast so many times without any lengthy prebreathing routines! This was the only science related thing that threw me out of the story while watching the movie.

Conventional American suites are operated at 4.7 psi, which is less than a third of an atmosphere in pressure - so when entering a spacesuit astronauts have to either decompress/compress very slowly (its apparently termed "camping out" in the airlock on the ISS), or do prebreathing exercises with pure oxygen. Either way the total process often takes greater than 12 hours of preperation time!

Here's a link to the wikipedia page on the ISS system,

and here's a simple tutorial on the Shuttle system.
5. Ian-g
Tyson is being way too hard on this movie. For once we've gotten a movie that's close enough to scientifically accurate that detailed nit-picking is even possible.

SPOILER - It's a disaster movie about Kessler syndrome. A realistic science/engineering problem that is obscure to the general public is explained in layman's terms and allowed to drive the plot. Kudos.
6. Atlatl
Hmm....if you're "anti-human extinction," wouldn't you want to focus on saving our biosphere from rampant industrialism and fossil-fuel intensive industries like space exploration?
Gregory Watters
7. Zorak
Gravity 2: Full Thrusters.

Sandra Bullock must keep her experimental orbital transporter going at least 55,000 mph, or it will collide with an approaching asteroid!
Gregory Watters
9. Zorak
Gravity 2: Armed & Pressurized

Sandra Bullock must Infiltrate a criminal space organization to prevent a collision with an approaching asteroid!
10. Malengine
@Atlatl while we should preserve the biosphere of Earth, it's still keeping all our eggs in one basket. Humankind needs to spread out from our own Galapagos or eventually we'll join the dodo
11. nibor7301
"For once we've gotten a movie that's close enough to scientifically accurate that detailed nit-picking is even possible."

Weird, when my dad saw the film (I haven't), he came out with a completely different impression. He lost count of the errors he saw. He said it was one of the most frustrating movies he's ever seen from that POV. And some of the ones he told me about were hilariously stupid from a physics perspective. I don't think it's minor when it makes one of the most crucial and emotional scenes in the movie utterly idiotic, on top of being a massive cliché.

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