How Accurate Is the Science & Technology in ‘Gravity’?

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‘Gravity’ is back in the headlines again. The film, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is up for a handful of Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. Whether you’ve seen it just once or dozens of times, one of the most common questions people ask after seeing the film is “How accurate was the science and technology I just saw?” If you want to know more about the technology seen in this film, here are a couple of quick facts.

1. Unlike Other Space Movies, ‘Gravity’ Faked Their Zero-G

To simulate Zero-G, the filmmakers in “Gravity” used a “a special 12-wire rig” to simulate the look of a person in a low gravity environment.

Because the scenes set in outer space were so extended, “Gravity” couldn’t do what “Apollo 13” did, and actually place actors in a Zero-G environment on the “Vomit Comet.” On the plus side, that meant no motion sickness for the cast. You can see what the vomit comet looks like in action in the video above.

2. Yes, GPS Works in Space

The Atlantic ran an interview with the “Gravity” science advisor, Dr. Kevin Grazier, who is an astrophysicist specializing in computational orbital dynamics.

One question posed by the interviewers was whether Bullock’s line “GPS is down” was scientifically accurate.

Dr. Grazier explains:

“The GPS satellites orbit at about 20,000 kilometers; Hubble orbits around 350. So, yeah, not a problem. In fact I seem to recall that when they upgraded the shuttles with GPS, they used an off-the-shelf receiver.”

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3. Yes, Those Space Station Buttons Are Accurate

The Bloomberg video above talks about what “Gravity” got right, and what it got wrong.

Forbes published the response of Garrett Reisman, Former NASA Astronaut, to “Gravity.”

Reisman states:

“When Sandra Bullock’s character turns the two valves to shut off oxygen flow to the Soyuz – those are exactly the correct valves to turn. When she wants to command the orbital maneuvering engine, the CKD, she pushes the correct button which is also labeled correctly. The interiors of the Soyuz and the International Space Station, are pretty realistic although the various modules are not the correct position.”

4. Some Science Details Are Not Real-World Accurate

PopSci has a great roundup of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s reactions to “Gravity.”

One of the funniest: “Mysteries of #Gravity: How Hubble (350mi up) ISS (230mi up) & a Chinese Space Station are all in sight lines of one another.”

While “Gravity” got many things right, some of the real world science was a bit off.

5. Bullock’s Wearable Spacesuit Tech Was Way Off

TIME notes that one big tech thing the film gets wrong is what kind of technology Bullock’s character would be packing underneath her spacesuit. TIME writes:

“NASA isn’t Hollywood. And so, in the new—and extraordinary—movie Gravity, when Sandra Bullock comes inside after a spacewalk, she shucks her pressure suit and floats about in a crop-top and boxer briefs, perfectly toned, perfectly lovely, zero-g eye candy.

In truth, what an astronaut returning from what NASA calls extavehicular activity (EVA) would have on under her pressure suit would be what’s known as a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment, a full-body, crazily complex bit of space finery that has about 300 ft. (91 m) of fashionable plastic tubing running through it. She’d also be wearing an adult diaper and would be wringing with sweat. Doesn’t matter if you’re Bullock, Penelope Cruz or Nicole Kidman, you would not be looking your best.”