Five things that couldn’t happen in ‘Gravity’

Fans love “Gravity,” but scientists have found some flaws in the film

10/7/2013, 1:52 p.m.
As far as fans are concerned, “Gravity” is out of this world. The Sandra Bullock/George Clooney space thriller set an ...
The Alfonso Cuarón film "Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney is thrilling audiences and being criticized by scientists. The space thriller set an October opening weekend record. Warner Bros.

As far as fans are concerned, “Gravity” is out of this world.

The Sandra Bullock/George Clooney space thriller set an October opening weekend record, surpassing “Paranormal Activity 3’s” $52.6 million debut in 2011, according to EW.

Many critics also hailed the film, which centers around characters being set adrift in space. But some in the science community have taken exception to some of the facts presented.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter over the weekend to offer several “Mysteries of #Gravity,” including “The film #Gravity should be renamed ‘Angular Momentum.’ “ He points what the film got wrong, from the fact that Bullock’s hair didn’t free float to why she, as a medical doctor, was on the mission to start with.

So here we offer 5 things that couldn’t happen in “Gravity.” Word to the wise: Stop reading now if you have an issue with spoilers (Seriously. You have been warned).

The way the shuttle travels

NASA expert Michael A. Interbartolo III didn’t even have to wait for the film to come out to dispute this. When the trailer premiered, he wrote that the relative motion of the shuttle in the film appears to be off for the chain of events that follow.

“The way I am seeing it, the shuttle was wings level, payload bay up (Z), right wing into the orbital velocity vector (X direction of travel), nose in Y,” wrote Interbartolo, who said he flew the shuttle in Mission Control for 11 years. “The Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris (though most were not really micro Meteoroid) impact puts it into a roll about Y with it still traveling in the velocity vector X, and why are the Forward and Aft reaction control jets not firing to damp the ramp since they were intact in the trailer?”

Translation for you non-science types out there: It’s more movie magic than actual science that has the shuttle getting smacked with debris and then heading in the direction it is set.

Rendezvousing in space is not as easy — or as quick — as the film makes it appear

Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first mission in space who gets set adrift after an accident. Part of the action involves her trying to make her way back to a fellow astronaut, Clooney’s Matt Kowalski. But according to Interbartolo, it’s a wonder that Clooney’s character doesn’t get “shredded” by all the debris floating around after the incident, let alone that the pair manage to link up again.

“If it is just her and Clooney, assuming she somehow got back to him after being flung away on the (Remote Manipulator System) free floating trying to get to the space station without a vehicle, that seems unlikely, unless the two orbits just magically intersect at the exact right time for them to be anywhere near the (International Space Station),” he said.

Kowalski’s equipment is outdated

Kowalski flies around on a way-cool jet pack that helps him get to Stone when she is in need. Writing for WRAL’s science blog, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program volunteer Tony Rice notes that “The Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) Clooney’s character jets around on in the opening scenes does exist but was used only on three early shuttle missions and not since 1984.