L-420: Logbook

I took advantage of my unexpected free Sunday and went to see "Gravity" yesterday.

For what it’s worth, I really think you should see it, if you haven’t already. A disclaimer here: my knowledge of cinematography is about equal to my knowledge of Sanskrit grammar. But I dare to say that you will inevitably be moved by the aesthetic beauty of the movie, its stunning visuals, its captivating music. I wasn’t too much sold on the storyline, but who cares? It’s a great excuse to take a trip to space and watch Earth from the orbital perspective. And to visit some of humanity’s hardware in space, from the Hubble to the International Space Station to the Soyuz spaceship, all reproduced with painstaking detail down to the labeling of the buttons on the control panel. Go the movie theater, put your 3D glasses and go take a look. Then go out, look up at the sky and think that all those things exists for real, right now, in Earth orbit. Let that thought sink in.

Ok, now to what you really want to know. Yes, the hardware reproduction is amazingly accurate, but how about what actually happens? Is it realistic?

(Spoiler alert)
Well, sorry, no. In my opinion, not a bit. For one thing there’s a series of physical impossibilities. Flying from Hubble to ISS on a jetpack? C’mon. They are in completely different orbits: different altitudes, different orbital velocities, different planes. If it’s not your daily work, out-of-plane orbital transfers can give you a headache, they’re just not intuitive. And they take a lot, really a lot of fuel. Not stuff for a tiny jetpack.

Or let’s talk about the drama moment when the brave Commander releases the hook that ties him to his crewmate: it was certainly of great emotional impact  to see him floating away under the spell of some magical force, but, ehm, in reality not much would have happened.  He would have just kept floating right there.

Anyway, enough said about the physical impossibilities. Let’s talk about the things I noticed that in my opinion make no sense from the point of view of real space operations on ISS.

1)      Training.
Dr. Stone said she trained six months for her flight. Well, I have trained for two years and I have one more to go. And, no, I can’t even fly a Chinese spacecraft.

2)      Tethers.
During the Hubble repair scenes you see a lot of free-floating tools. In a real spacewalk, nothing is ever left untethered. And crewmembers are additionally attached by a coiling safety tether that would pull them back to structure if they came off.

3)      Jetpack flying.
Crewmembers really don’t fly around using a jetpack like that. The jetpack (called SAFER) is just an extra safety measure and has just enough gas to quickly fly back to structure if one was ever to come off.

4)      Loss of communication
The communication satellites, called TDRS, are geostationary satellites. They are in a 36.000 km orbit. They can’t be taken down by debris “flying around” in Low Earth Orbit.

5)      O2 in the suit running out.
Actually, the first consumable that would run out would be CO2 scrubbing. Dr. Stone would have died of CO2 intoxication well before she’d run out of oxygen.

6)      Airlock hatches.
In the movie Dr. Stone seems to be easily able to “break into” any Space Station that so happens to be in her same orbit by turning a convenient external handle of the airlock hatch. The hatches conveniently open to the outside and the airlocks are conveniently isolated from the rest of the Station. In reality, we don’t have external handles on hatches and we don’t keep airlocks isolated – if you open the hatch, you depressurize the whole Station. Also, hatches to vacuum open to the inside, not the outside, otherwise they wouldn’t be very safe, right? Think of all that inside pressure wanting to push them open all the time. Of course, since they open to the inside you have to depressurize the airlock first, otherwise you would have a very hard time opening them.

7)      Extra ships.
On the various Stations conveniently located on her orbit, Dr. Stone also finds spaceships conveniently left behind by the Station crew. In reality, we have two Soyuz spaceships for six people of ISS. If we have to leave, we use them both. On an evacuated Space Station there would be no Soyuz left behind.
OK, I’ll leave the rest for tomorrow.

In the meantime, go see the movie, bring your friends and tell them all that hardware really exists up there in orbit and it's a magnificent achievement.


(Trad IT)  Traduzione in italiano a cura di +AstronautiNEWS qui:

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