September 27, 2013
New Movie ‘Gravity’ Tackles Real NASA Science
[ Watch The Video: Sandra Bullock's 'Out-Of-This-World' Role ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
One of the most anticipated films of the year, Gravity, will be coming to theaters next weekend, and while it is sure to provide a thrilling "what-if" scenario, it will also shed light on the dangers NASA astronauts face during each spacewalk.
In Gravity, two astronauts end up drifting in space and struggling for survival after their spacecraft is destroyed by space debris. Not only does the movie bring to light a real problem that scientists are working to control, but NASA says it actively works to protect its astronauts and vehicles from the types of real dangers portrayed in the film.
"From protective material coating the outside of the International Space Station to meticulous and methodical training on the ground and in space covering everything from spacewalking to fires or decompression inside the space station, NASA's ground crews and astronauts are as prepared as they can be for potential anomaly, no matter how remote they may be," the space agency said in a statement.
Sandra Bullock, who co-stars in the movie along with George Clooney, did a little research when working on her role for the film. Bullock said she called up Expedition 26 astronaut Cady Coleman while she was aboard the International Space Station to ask the astronaut about what it is like living and moving around in microgravity.
“I told her that I had long hair, and if you pulled a hair out and pushed it against something, you could move yourself across the space station,” said Coleman. “That’s how little force it takes."
Clooney and Bullock are not the only stars in the movie to take the spotlight - NASA has one of its own in the mix. The International Space Station (ISS) works as a backdrop for the film, where viewers will get a chance to see what it's like working on the orbiting laboratory while watching the big screen.
NASA says that Gravity utilizes all kinds of science performed on real experiments aboard the space station. For example, the movie incorporates plant growth in microgravity, which is an actual experiment astronauts are performing on board the station.
“I was pleased to have the movie show something that we actually do on the space station,” said Coleman. “Up in space, we are forced to grow things in an alternative way. Just growing them in the dirt is not always the most logistically feasible option. In trying to understand those lessons, we learn how to minimize resources and still grow something.”
The space station's Vegetable Production System (Veggie) facility could eventually provide the crew with a fresh, nutritious and safe source of food for long-duration exploration. Understanding how plants grow in space will ultimately help with manned missions to Mars in the future.
“If we are going to go to Mars, we are not going to be able to bring everything we need to eat," points out Coleman. "This is why it’s important to understand how to grow food in space.”
The film involves a scene with fire, which is another important research subject on the space station, including the Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) investigation and the Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX). Scientists use these studies to understand the dynamic nature of how fuels burn and flames operate in space.
“This research lets us make more accurate measurements for an easier math problem to solve," said Coleman. "Things burn in a different way in space, allowing us to understand the mechanism of burning itself — how soot is produced, how pollution happens — things happen more slowly, so we are able to better measure them.”
Gravity opens in theaters everywhere next Friday, October 4. Anyone wanting to get a view of the dangers NASA astronauts could potentially face should see the movie. However, for those who can't wait, check out this article about astronaut Luca Parmitano's harrowing experience of almost drowning in space.