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Space Movies NASA

NASA Astronaut Talks "Gravity," Spacewalking, ISS 97

Nerval's Lobster writes "The upcoming movie Gravity features a pair of astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) stranded in orbit after their space shuttle is destroyed by floating debris. Faced with dwindling oxygen levels, they struggle to reach the nearby International Space Station (ISS). It's a movie, so some deviations from reality are expected, but it also opens up an opportunity to talk with a NASA astronaut about what it's like to live in space. Catherine 'Cady' Coleman, who has spent thousands of hours aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station, who gave Bullock advice on the role, suggests that the real NASA has the whole orbital-debris issue well in hand, but that it takes a lot of training (and on-the-job experience) to get the hang of living in space. 'When we get up to space and the people up there run around and show us stuff — that's really, really effective and there was nothing like that compared to the classroom.' Despite the physical and mental demands, and the the time spent away from family, she sees the endeavor as supremely worth it. 'We're all very privileged to do this job,' Coleman says. 'They spend a lot of money making you ready, and you have a responsibility to do your job.'"
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NASA Astronaut Talks "Gravity," Spacewalking, ISS

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  • by Russ1642 ( 1087959 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:33PM (#45029509)

    Ron Howard really set the standard ages ago when they filmed large portions of Apollo 13 in actual zero gravity.

    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:38PM (#45029567)

      They've got it easier here, they spend most of the movie in their suits in open space. Relatively trivial to do with CGI these days and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than 15 trips on the vomit comet.

      • And it'll look only slightly more realistic than The Reluctant Astronaut.

      • by Longjmp ( 632577 )
        It can't be worse than Mission to Mars. This was the only movie so bad it made me angry.

        (I bet Tim Robbins was on his knees begging to get written out early after he realized what shit he was in)
        • IDK man, Red Planet wasn't much better with it's alien bugs crawling all over Mars making air that we somehow missed after a ton of observations and probes.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Which is quite odd really, since so much work went in to get some things right (eg. the rotating set like in 2001) only to be spoiled by some utterly stupid shit.
          I think it's a good example of how Hollywood can have a pile of perfect work from experts and then fuck it all up by putting an cocaine fuelled ego in charge.
        • by doti ( 966971 )

          I liked Mission To Mars [imdb.com].

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday October 03, 2013 @06:01PM (#45030435) Homepage Journal

        The best thing about the movie Apollo 13 was the attention to every detail; the old cabinet TV with Walter Cronkite, the clothes, the music... As to the movie "Gravity" I submitted this, [slashdot.org] which linked Ms. Ivin's full review of the movie. [time.com] If you see it in the firehose, don't vote it up as it would be a dupe at this point.

        Ivin is a self professed sci-fi fan and "one of the original Trekkies".* An engineer and a Trekkie? I'll bet she's lurking here now, probably has a 3 digit UID. A snippet of her review:

        My first take was to itemize the errors. The vehicles are in impossible orbits -- wrong altitudes, wrong inclinations. The backpack maneuvering unit has a nearly infinite amount of fuel and comes superchargedâ"but only until the plot requires it suddenly to run out. Space stations seem to retain pressure in their various modules despite coming apart at the seams. You can apparently close an outward opening hatch against exiting pressure with one hand.

        She did have a lot of good things to say about it.

        If you have a GF this is most likely a movie you can take her to since it's Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

        * Sometimes it's great being a geezer, I got to see TOS when it was brand new and flat screen monitors, "communicators", self-opening doors, etc were just fantasies. A young friend envied me when I described hearing Led Zeppelin for the first time, as John Bonham was dead before he was born.

        I live in a science fiction fantasy, except it's all real now. You guys grew up with computers, computers grew up with me. [kuro5hin.org]

        You guys will see things even science fiction writers haven't thought of.

        • Different astronaut. Maybe it wouldn't be a dupe?

        • by nherm ( 889807 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @06:47PM (#45030821) Journal

          If you have a GF this is most likely a movie you can take her to since it's Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

          My girlfriend is a rocket scientist, you insensitive clod!

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            Women rocket scientists love Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, AND science fiction. You'll get laid for sure!

        • On being a geezer and related: oh, yeah; half the stuff we have now from all the sci-fi read starting late Fifties, the rest of it I'm still waiting for. But the perspective, and having lived through all the things that were then brand-freaking-new and now taken so for granted as to be background.... gets a bit weird at times.

          Seeing Star Trek when it first aired. Watching Destination Moon (1950) in 1951 when a print made it to the post theater outside of Augsburg. There was a year when I was still an en

          • Odd how mind and memory work or don't; how could I have left out something such as Sputnik I in October '57? For that matter, Nautilus' transpolar trip of '58? Not to mention Nautilus herself? So many new things, now faded, occupying various dusty shelves and corners of the brain.

            Reminds me a bit of my mother's father, who as a child walked behind a mule plowing fields and watched as automobiles (and tractors!) became common, for whom the airplane of the Wright brothers et al were new and wondrous, and w

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            Wow, and I thought I was old! Haven't heard the term "slipstick" in decades; I had one in high school, it made math a breeze. It was 1970 before I saw a calculator (and today's $2 calculator was about $50 back then).

            • Shooey, mcgrew, there's likely enuf of us old farts to start our own geezers sittin' and spittin' porch. I was wondering the other day how many still remember "Weekly Reader" - was something like a quarter a year to subscribe, and one got great discounts on books.

              I had a number of fine slide rules. One was from Japan, of bamboo, with extra scales; another, gotten at university incorporated titanium for claimed stability. Had an "is-was" and another more general circular one also. Not claiming I ever lea

              • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

                I don't think kids today are much different than we were. I was never interested by history when I was a kid, either. I never saw the point; but that was a failure on my teachers' part. I was in college before I saw the value of history, when I took a general studies history class.

                Math and science fascinated me from the get-go. I wanted to know how radios and TVs and everything else worked from as far back as I can remember until I learned to read.

                I got a slide rule in about the 6th grade; I'd never memoriz

                • I did appreciate the linked journal entry.

                  The discovery I made about boredom didn't come until I was in my early thirties, when I unaccountably got humongously badly depressed (beyond the usual crippling 'normal' depression) by getting completely bored to the point of ennui. Way out for me was an examination of my ignorance. When I was little, knowing so little, my ignorance encompassed the mud puddle of all the things that I could look at and ask the typical three-year old's "why?" As I got older, ignor

                  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

                    All of my uncles were in WWII, but none of them talked about it. Probably wanted to leave the horror of war in the past; one of them was at Normandy Beach on D-Day, another was wounded when his ship was attacked. My dad was too young, he joined during the Korean war. One grandfather was in WWI and he never talked about that, either.

                    I remember once when I was really small asking someone, Dad or Grandpa, I don't remember who, some question and he said "I don't know, but it's in a book somewhere. Everything yo

                    • Yeah, none of the people I knew who'd been in combat talked about it, other than to say it was not good, and they were glad to back and then change the subject. I never pushed it. My friends who came back from Vietnam were the same, sometimes a bit more open.

                      Funny, I got caught a time or two with stuff I wasn't supposed to be able to read also. All I ever got out of it was a talking-to or makework. That's one of the biggest peeves I had, and still do; even with somewhat better student-teacher ratios ava

    • It's a different kind of movie than Apollo 13 - the visuals of Gravity are far more spectacular, but not necessarily unrealistic. The buzz in this respect is quite positive:

      The team behind Gravity, an upcoming sci-fi flick starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, seem particularly dedicated to accurately portraying science, however... According to "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait, JPL scientist Kevin Grazier served as the science adviser for the film. Although scientists increasingly provide guidance to film

      • At first glance, however, Gravity appears to err on the side of realism.

        There are rumors of a flight from Hubble to the ISS using a backpack thruster unit, so I take that with a big grain of salt.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Astronaut Marsha Ivins disagrees (her review linked above).

        But in more realistically intended space movies, Iâ(TM)m a bit more. . .sensitive. Watching Gravity, I found myself cycling between appreciation and cringing, almost in time with the action.

        My first take was to itemize the errors. The vehicles are in impossible orbitsâ"wrong altitudes, wrong inclinations. (The communications satellites that create the debris field that wreaks all the havoc are actually 21,700 miles [35,000 km] higher than

    • I kindly suggest you watch the movie before denouncing it like that.

      There are MINUTE LONG takes going through space stations in zero gravity, have fun trying to cobble that together in a vomit comet.

      • Not using CG is generally considered a positive these days. Working around the limitations of filming real things is a major part of the art of film making.

        • Are you trying to say that the major part of the art of film making that uses CG these days is positive, or not?

          Anyway, I stand by my point. You should watch it before calling it names because you already know you're going to hate the CG in it.

          I mean, I could also talk about the acting. If you'll go watch the movie before coming back to this thread, I won't be talking about Academy Awards until January 2014.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        There are MINUTE LONG takes going through space stations in zero gravity, have fun trying to cobble that together in a vomit comet.

        IIRC you're weightless for about 3 minutes at a time in the comet. They managed very long weightlessness scenes in Apollo 13.

        • by jonwil ( 467024 )

          I saw this film yesterday and I can say that there is no way you would be able to replicate the space station sets inside the Vomit Comet (or any other flying machine built to date), they are just too big.

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            Just paint the comet's walls green like they do when an actor is running from an explosion; those shots are filmed inside a sound stage.

        • 20-30 seconds is more like it.

          http://www.gozerog.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Experience.How_it_Works [gozerog.com]
          "For the next 20-30 seconds everything in the plane is weightless."

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduced_gravity_aircraft [wikipedia.org]
          "giving them about 25 seconds of weightlessness out of 65 seconds of flight in each parabola"

          I used "vomit comet zero g time span" as search term in DuckDuckGo and got plenty of good hits. Four of the six I looked at reported "25-30" seconds, the same as one result from NASA; the others may u

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            I don't remember where I saw that, but I'll take wikipedia's word for it, it's a lot more reliable than my memory.

            That fact makes Apollo 13 even more awesome.

            • Yeah, 3 minutes would be handy, but it'd be one king-hell of a parabola. WikiP was my second hit read, but went to NASA for the clincher. Memory; aw crap, mine's about shot (in fairness it's maybe not so much the librarian's fault, as it's the waning army of file clerks not finding things.)

    • I completely agree with the sentiment of your comment, but I gotta nitpick here ... actual zero gravity? So they actually escaped Earth's orbit in an actual spacecraft, filmed the whole thing there and slingshotted around the moon to shoot that scene where Tom Hanks says "I've seen it"?

      Naw, I'm preeeetty sure they were inside an aircraft doing parabolic flight patterns to counter gravity and create simulated weightlessness ;) The effect is the same, but the cause is very different (gravity is still act
      • Naw, I'm preeeetty sure they were inside an aircraft doing parabolic flight patterns to counter gravity and create simulated weightlessness ;) The effect is the same, but the cause is very different (gravity is still acting on the plane and it's occupants, which you'd notice quickly if it made a sudden leveling or climb)

        In orbit. Just as in parabolic flight gravity is still acting on everyone. It really is pretty much the same. You are falling at the exact rate gravity is pulling on you in parabolic arc flight or in orbit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        There is no such thing as "zero gravity", in fact the force gravity in LEO is only slightly less that it is on the surface. Astronauts and spacecraft are in free-fall around the Earth which is equivalent to what they experience in the Vomit Comet. The only difference is that in orbit, you're moving fast enough that you continually miss hitting the ground. The Vomit Comet isn't so lucky and thus needs to pull up periodically
        • Well, if one could travel to a point between the stars, you would effectively be in 0 gravity. The closest start to ours is about 4 light years away. If you were in between the 2 stars, you would be 2 light years away from the nearest object. Although technically, gravity doesn't have a boundary, I'm pretty sure the force of gravity at that location acting on something the size of a person would be pretty much unmeasurable.
          • Had to work this out... 1 lightyear ~ 1e16 m, 1 solar mass ~ 2e30 kg, acceleration due to gravity = GM / R^2. So acceleration due to sun at 2 lightyears ~ 7e-11 * 2e30 / (2e16)^2 ~ 4e-13 m/s^2 ~ 4e-14 gee. Yep, pretty much unmeasurable.

            However, according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] the sun is about 30 000 lightyear ~ 3e20 m from the galactic core and is moving at about 240 km/s = 2.4e5 m/s relative to the core, so if we simply assume that's fully tangential, radial acceleration a = v^2 / R ~ 2e-10 m/s^2 ~ 2e-11 gee.

      • No, ISS needs thrusters mostly for attitude control (in conjunction with gyros, I believe), although it can manage enough thrust to do some of its own orbital adjustments and for debris-avoidance.

        Most boost is done by visiting craft. Whatever the source, boost is used to raise orbit as a counter to air resistance, not to counter gravity.

        Free fall is free fall, orbit is orbit - the latter defined as balancing velocity between lowering or raising orbital path. So far as I know, all orbital decay is due to a

        • Oh, and "micro-gravity" stems from _all_ mass, not just Earth.

          To clarify, according to the Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org], most of the non-zero g forces in a microgravity environment are due to tidal and other "differential" effects. From the figures given, the effects of gravitational attraction between, say, an object and a massive part of a space station (or, I suppose, between a station and docking craft) are less significant in probably most situations.

          • No doubt, and I read that as well. The WikiP article is worth looking at, for those interested. I was being an absolutist (mass has the property of gravitational attraction) and hope it didn't come across that I was trying to be a dick-head about it - although I may have failed in that.

            There's a lot of stuff that goes into just orbital mechanics - more than I can comfortably even approach, let alone all the extra stuff that's involved in practical terms of maintaining a stable orbit against all the impedi

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )
      Gravity sucks, not the movie, but gravity it really sucks. I do not fear heights, but I do fear gravity or better said, I fear the sudden stop at the bottom.
      • You jump off a building and gently accelerate to something like 55 m/s. It takes a few seconds. That's gravity.

        You hit the sidewalk below and almost instantly accelerate (in the other direction) to 0 m/s. It takes some few milliseconds. That's electromagnetism.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hey everyone! It's an ad for a new movie! Pfft.

  • by TWiTfan ( 2887093 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:45PM (#45029649)

    In the real world, Shuttles are destroyed by funding cuts.

  • by umafuckit ( 2980809 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:59PM (#45029795)
    I'm keen on astronomy and space exploration but I don't understand what the ISS is really for. Surely the billions that have been spent on it would have gone further had we directed them towards space probes or space telescopes? From what I can tell, it seems to be serve more of a diplomatic role than a scientific role.
    • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @05:14PM (#45029951)

      i can has wiki? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station#Purpose [wikipedia.org]

      the basic answer is that they do science experiments.

    • by jxander ( 2605655 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @05:38PM (#45030191)

      If nothing else, it has given us a basic understanding of life in space. If we ever want to send manned missions to Mars or beyond, there will likely be a pit-stop at L2 [wikipedia.org]

      There's plenty to be learned about human physiology (and plants) in a zero-g environment, before we move on to bigger challenges.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday October 03, 2013 @05:14PM (#45029941) Homepage

    From TFA: When we get up to space and the people up there run around and show us stuff â" that's really, really effective and there was nothing like that compared to the classroom.

    Sounds like when I reported to my submarine... the real thing was very different from the neat lines on the diagrams and open spaces in the simulators and trainers. (And the willies that I got the first time we dove...)

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @05:23PM (#45030043)

    they struggle to reach the nearby International Space Station (ISS)

    In this NY Times review, Astronaut and a Writer at the Movies [nytimes.com], Dennis Overbye and astronaut Michael J. Massimino watched and discussed the movie together... "There is a hole in the plot: a gaping orbital impossibility big enough to drive the Starship Enterprise through."

    Plot *SPOILER* or orbital physics lesson, take your pick:

    ... Michael J. Massimino, who flew missions in 2002 and 2009 to service the Hubble Space Telescope — the same telescope the astronauts in “Gravity” were sent to repair. ... there is a hole in the plot: a gaping orbital impossibility big enough to drive the Starship Enterprise through.

    After they stop tumbling and find the shuttle destroyed and their colleagues all dead, Mr. Clooney tells Ms. Bullock that their only hope for rescue is to use his jetpack to travel to the space station, seen as a glowing light over the horizon. “It’s a long hike, but we can make it,” he says.

    ... the Hubble and the space station are in vastly different orbits. 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.

    • They pay for plenty of qualified scientific advisers and then they ignore all of the advice.

    • To be honest, they hardly needed the Hubble in that movie. They could just have done some standard satellite maintenance, like the Shuttle occasionally does, or did anyway. Not like it makes any sense that a real doctor was fixing sciency bits on the Hubble that furthered any medical purposes, either. "We can now spot AIDS with a telescope that's pointing away from Earth!"

      I figure they just put the Hubble in for the audience. I guess real astronauts were only a small part of the target audience.

    • by GryMor ( 88799 )

      An ideal intercept, while impossible on the 25m/s delta v of the old MMU, only actually needs 39m/s. Given a lighter weight, higher ISP advanced MMU and the initial disaster having lobbed them in generally the right direction. What isn't plausible, if they manage an intercept, is them doing anything more than destroying the ISS, continuing the Kessler Syndrome (it's another 39m/s to circularize and don't get me started on matching inclinations).

    • by Poisonous Drool ( 526798 ) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @06:33PM (#45030711)
      Many years ago I "advised" a real-live screen writer (credited with seven movies) on a space shuttle movie, meaning he bought me lunch. He wanted to fly the shuttle to the sun. I told him it was impossible. He didn't care. I ate my lunch and he wrote his script. That's the way it goes in Hollywood. (The movie was released but his credit was something other than screenwriter on this particular film. Must have been my bad advice.)
      • He wanted to fly the shuttle to the sun.

        That sounds like Airplane II: The Sequel. In that case I think it's ok that some scientific realism was sacrificed.

    • So in the movie the Hubble is a bit lower and the ISS a bit higher, and they share an orbit and hold station to facilitate regular maintenance, but at a safe distance to prevent regular ISS activity from interfering with the telescope and in case something goes wrong. Yes it's impossible in our space program but the F in SF doesn't stand for Fact.
      • Yes it's impossible in our space program but the F in SF doesn't stand for Fact.

        From the article I linked:

        It wouldn’t matter so much had the producers not set such a high bar for themselves with their splendid re-creations of small things: the fogging helmets, the space tools. Violations of the known laws of physics happen in practically every frame of a “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” movie, and we don’t care because we don’t expect anything better.

        But this is the way it goes in the movies. They will hire art historians to make sure the curtains in Einstein’s house look right — it’s a visual medium, after all — but at some point, as the science fiction director David Twohy said during a talk on movies and science, science gives way to the story.

        Still, I wish they wouldn’t always cheat on the physics.

        You might want to watch Europa Report [wikipedia.org] for something that "puts the science back into science fiction" - quoting a Rotten Tomatoes critic.

  • "Faced with dwindling oxygen levels, they struggle to reach the nearby International Space Station (ISS)." - Mua haha ha! And thus will be the demise of the fragile organics. Your puny frames are too expensive to truly make space your home. Your envy of the machines is already causing some among you to desire they be transformed into us. Your warm wet brain isn't suited to the cold calculations required of a truly space faring race.

    Breathing is a design flaw.

  • Great, I've been assiduously avoiding finding too much out about this movie so I can go and actually find out what happens at the cinema and you give the outline of the plot in the first sentence. Nice going editors, nice going EVERYONE.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson