Is Gravity Scientifically Accurate Or Not?

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One of the biggest and most successful blockbuster movies of 2013 was Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” a space thriller telling the tale of the exploits of two brave astronauts (portrayed by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) trying to survive on a mission in orbit that went horribly wrong. The destruction of their space shuttle in a collision with some orbiting debris leads to a cascading event known as the “Kessler Syndrome.”

The film explores traditional themes such as abandonment and humanity’s drive for survival in the wilderness while trying to accurately depict space walks and safety during spaceflight in the wake of the dangers of extraterrestrial exploration. The film was crafted in great detail in order to make the aesthetics and the science as realistic as possible, but even the director himself admits that some scientific inaccuracies simply had to be made for the film to maintain its narrative.

Scientists have praised Gravity’s attention to detail and realism while at the same time criticising some of the fault points and inaccuracies. One critic who really went out of his way to explain to us all the science in the movie was Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Back in 2013 when the film was released, the astrophysicist posted a remarkable series of tweets that brought attention to the technical faults.

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Warner Bros. Pictures

The film starts off when a Russian missile strikes a decommissioned satellite, causing debris to accelerate in orbit. The debris eventually hits the crew’s space shuttle and kills one astronaut, leaving the other two barely alive. Tyson argued that there’s no sense in sending Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer, into orbit to repair the Hubble telescope. She wouldn’t have the necessary skills to survive the catastrophe and return to Earth, even with guidance.

Tyson also criticized the moment when Clooney’s character finally drifts away from Dr. Stone, saying that it is inaccurately portrayed because there are no acting forces in space except inertia. A single tug would bring them together and there would be nothing to propel him away. Of course, it isn’t all inaccurate.

Tyson himself said that most of the film is scientifically accurate. Some examples include the 90-minute orbital time for objects at that altitude and the thinness of Earth’s atmosphere when compared to its size. All in all, it looks like mistakes had to be made in order to preserve the narrative – and that’s perfectly understandable.

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