Categories: Blog

How Could We Fix Gravity?

I finally caught up with the rest of the space journalist community and watched the new Gravity movie last night.

I absolutely loved it. It was by far the best movie I’ve seen this year, and I think one of the best space movies ever made.

The attention to detail on so many aspects of spaceflight was heartening: the cramped conditions of the space station, the perspective of the Earth, the lack of sound, the realistic physics (mostly).

WARNING – Spoilers Ahead

I believe that good art benefits from constraints. And in this case, director Alfonso Cuarón gave himself the constraint of a realistic portrayal of space, and it paid off in so many ways.

Except when he didn’t. There are a pile of unscientific moments that happen in the movie, that I think could have been easily fixed in the script stage.

It would have been amazing to hear Phil Plait or Neil deGrasse Tyson scratching their heads, unable to find a single scientific flaw.

So let’s fix Gravity

I’ll go first.

Remember I said spoilers? Here come the spoilers.

Stone can’t hold on to Kowalski and he’s forced to detach himself – As it was portrayed in the movie, and noted by Phil, he had no force pulling him away from Stone, so she should have been able to easily tug him back. But if the station was rotating quickly enough, there would be outward centripetal force.

People have speculated on the internet that it was rotating, and the background stars are shifting. But if that was the case, loose ropes and cables would be extending out from the station. And things wouldn’t have been floating so freely inside the station.

Solution:

As the astronauts are approaching the ISS, they noticed that the first Soyuz had already been used to abandon the station – what if they gave the station a kick as they departed in a rush? So maybe Kowalski could have noticed that the station was spinning. And the mess of parachute lines would have been taut, reflecting that.

That would have made hanging onto the lines more difficult, and would have been enough force to tear Kowalski away.

Your turn. What was a problem in the story, and how could it have been fixed without seriously ruining the movie?

I posted this topic over on Google+ and got some great suggestions for topics:

  • How could you get a debris cascade going so quickly?
  • Shouldn’t airlocks open inward?
  • Why did a fire start at the exact moment Stone gets on board ISS?
  • How could you get from Hubble to ISS to Tiangong? They’re on different orbital trajectories?
  • Why would communications satellites get taken out? They’re at a much higher altitude.
  • Why wasn’t Stone wearing traditional astronaut undergarments and, uh, a diaper?
  • Why didn’t Stone’s hair float in microgravity?

What scientific inconsistencies did you see, and how would you fix them?

Fraser Cain

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay. Here's a link to my Mastodon account.

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