'Gravity': Astronauts, experts debunk movie's space junk
05:00 AM, Oct 09, 2013
Astronaut Michael Massimino has walked the walk. So he knows what he’s talking about.
Even with 600 hours in space and 30 hours of space walk under his belt, Massimino said watching the new blockbuster Gravity made him feel like he was back among the stars.
“I would say it was a pretty accurate depiction. It brought back a lot of memories,” said Massimino, on whom George Clooney’s character is thought to be based. “The space shuttle, the views from space and even the tools used were realistic.”
The $100 million, Alfonso Cuaron-directed thriller hurtled to the top of the weekend box office pulling in $55.6 million the biggest October opening of all time. It was also the best opening ever for the film’s two stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, according to Warner Bros. studios.
Now, a spoiler alert.
In the sci-fi thriller, Bullock’s character, an astronaut on her first mission, is teamed up with Clooney’s character, a veteran, to repair the Hubble Space Telescope some 372 miles above Earth. A seemingly routine spacewalk goes horribly wrong when the shuttle is destroyed, leaving the two stranded in the terrifying expanse of space with nothing but deafening silence for company.
“It’s a really, really, bad day in space,” said Massimino, 51, who flew twice on the space shuttle Atlantis to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. “It shows that space exploration can be dangerous.”
Critics have been quick to poke holes in the story. Everything from the inability of Bullock’s hair to float freely to the fact that the Hubble and the space station are in vastly different orbits, have been argued about on the Twittersphere.
The most vocal and attention-generating tweets have been from the renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. In 11 tweets posted Sunday, Tyson suggested alternative names for the movie (Zero Gravity and Angular Momentum the tendency of an object, once set rotating, to keep rotating unless another force acts to slow or stop it) and wonders why Bullock’s character, a medical doctor, is servicing the Hubble.
A sample tweet from Tyson: “Mysteries of #Gravity: Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east yet all satellite debris portrayed orbited east to west.”
Responses to Tyson’s tweets were equally swift and merciless: From “shut up nerd stop ruining the movie” to “Should we just start calling you #DoctorBuzzkill?” to “Ruiner of all things we love. Pluto and the movie Gravity.”
But Tyson, too, is a fan of the movie.
“My Tweets hardly ever convey opinion. Mostly perspectives on the world. But if you must know, I enjoyed #Gravity very much,” he tweeted Monday.
Nelson S. Davis of Peekskill, N.Y., who saw the movie Saturday in 3-D, said he planned to see it again this weekend.
“I have to watch (it) in an IMAX theater. It’s an amazing survival adventure, and it’s a harrowing movie,” said Davis, who has convinced his wife and stepson to go along with him. “Everyone in the theater was breathing deeply and quietly.”
Massimino, who grew up on Long Island and went on a get a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from MIT, said he was inspired by the movie The Right Stuff 30 years ago.
“Movies have the power to inspire, and I hope the views of Earth inspire the young people to explore this field,” said Massimino, now a visiting professor at Columbia University’s mechanical engineering department.
That’s exactly what David Parmet’s hoping for.
“My daughters are 11 and my son is 13. It was a good opportunity to sneak in a little lesson in physics (while discussing the flaws in the movie),” said Parmet, a Pound Ridge, N.Y., resident who is on the board of the nonprofit Westchester Amateur Astronomers.
“I hope the movie inspires kids, especially girls, to pursue careers in science and engineering,” said Parmet. “Maybe we’ll get a few more astronauts from the kids who saw it.”
As for going through the movie with a fine-toothed scientific comb, Massimino, who made history by sending the first tweet from space in May 2009, tweeted Tuesday to his 1.2 million followers:
“We should remember that #Gravity is a movie, not a documentary, it is entertaining while also bringing the wonder of space to the big screen.”