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New Movie "Gravity": Will it Get the Science Right?

For decades, science fiction directors have struggled to balance science realism and plausibility with enough drama to engage their audience. Physical impossibilities, such as sound propagating through air-less space, often crop up in sci-fi blockbusters (like the "pew-pew" laser sounds in Star Wars).

The team behind Gravity, an upcoming sci-fi flick starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, seem particularly dedicated to accurately portraying science, however. In fact, the marketing crew decided to set the record straight on sound in space with the first seconds of the movie's final trailer before release:

At 372 Miles Above Earth
There's Nothing To Carry Sound
No Air Pressure
No Oxygen

Life in Space is Impossible

The movie centers on two astronauts who, while performing a spacewalk, encounter debris from an errant satellite. As you can see in the trailer, the resulting collision creates no shortage of problems for the soon-to-be-stranded astronauts.

Gravity looks intense and beautiful, and judging by the emerging critical consensus, the film won't disappoint — especially in the visual department.

The trailer also suggests the film will make many science fans happy as well. In fact, director Alfonso CuarĂ³n appears to have created something more akin to a disaster movie than a far-off science fiction fantasy. Government scientists and satellite operators constantly worry about space debris and the dangerous consequences of defunct satellite collisions. Just one collision could create a sea of untraceable debris that could blast through other satellites and spacecraft.

GPS also shows up in the trailer, a capability on the International Space Station added years ago. Because GPS satellites orbit thousands of miles higher than the International Space Station (~375 miles above ground), GPS satellites can provide astronauts and ground crews with location data, provided they have the right receivers on board.

According to "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait, JPL scientist Kevin Grazier served as the science adviser for the film. Although scientists increasingly provide guidance to filmmakers, sometimes drama overrides accuracy. At first glance, however, Gravity appears to err on the side of realism.

Gravity has a wide release in the US on October 4, so keep an eye out for this highly-anticipated movie. From both an entertainment and a scientific perspective, this film looks quite promising.


  1. Well, I can already tell you from the trailers alone, one place where they get it wrong; the frantic struggles of the astronauts when the debris hits should cause them to start spinning uncontrollably, and even to move farther away from what they're trying to grasp, instead of floating nicely JUST out of reach of what they're trying to grab, in a stable orientation to it.

  2. I just saw this and I don't want to spoil anything, but there is only one scene that made me question "how did that happen?"

    Everything else is pretty spot on.

  3. They can't even get the orbital distance correct so how can you trust the movie to be realistic... the trailer says the ISS orbits at 372 miles... this should be kilometers!!!


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