Free fallin'. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Gravity kinda sucks when it comes to accuracy, say NASA scientists

Contributed by
Apr 23, 2018

Winning Alfonso Cuaron the Academy Award for best director back in 2013 was just the brightest of Gravity’s many critical accomplishments, but one group the movie can’t pull to its side is the women of NASA who engineer real-life space tech.

When it comes to accuracy, the George Clooney and Sandra Bullock space thriller seemed to be on more than one scientist’s hit list for a BBC Live feature that asked female engineers at NASA and Boeing to rate the plausibility of the science shown off in movies set in outer space.

Among their gripes were the film’s disregard of physics, its sacrifice of ugly reality in exchange for sex appeal, and the way it basically made everything associated with space exploration look like one big rolling disaster.

“Sandra Bullock could just move between orbits with really almost no issue,” said flight design analyst Caley Burke, while Allison McIntyre, chief of the space mockup vehicle facility at Johnson Space Center, complained that  “when [Bullock] gets out of her spacesuit... she's in cute little underwear — where's the diaper?”

But the movie’s worst offense may have been one of discouraging future astronauts from running toward the risks associated with manned space flight.

"Everything that could go wrong, went terribly terribly wrong, and that's not exactly the feeling we want everybody to have about this industry,” summarized Boeing engineer Tori Wells.

But if Gravity kinda sucked at getting the science right, other movies fared better. Both Apollo 13 (1993) and The Martian (2015), some interviewees said, demonstrate a respect for the limitations that nature places on human space exploration. Apollo 13 “was done so well, and it just looked so real,” said astronaut Karen Nyberg, who named it as her favorite film. “It really is relevant to how we actually fly in space.”

And McIntyre — the one who wanted Bullock in diapers for Gravity — said she loves The Martian “because that's where we're going and it really does show how hard it is.”

To check out the full hourlong video feature, which also touches on film universes like Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, head over to the BBC’s landing page.