(L) The STS-157 mission patch, as worn by the shuttle astronauts in Warner Bros. Pictures' new movie, "Gravity." (R) Original STS-125 Patch.
Defining 'Gravity': Sandra Bullock, Alfonso Cuarón talk pull behind film's title
Sandra Bullock discusses the meaning behind her new movie's title,
In director Alfonso Cuarón's new movie, actress Sandra Bullock stars as an astronaut who suddenly finds herself floating uncontrollably in space. So why title the film "Gravity," the clear opposite of what the majority of people think of when they imagine life off of the planet Earth? collectSPACE posed that question to Cuarón and Bullock in a recent interview, where the director and actress gave their impressions of the meaning behind "Gravity."
"Gravity is a major, major character in the film," explained Cuarón. "More specifically, microgravity."
"In reality, when we see astronauts floating around in orbit of planet Earth, it's not that there is no gravity, it's what is called microgravity," he said.As defined by NASA, gravity is a force governing motion throughout the universe. It holds us to the ground, it keeps the moon in orbit around the Earth and the Earth in orbit around the sun.
"The condition of microgravity comes about whenever an object is in free fall," NASA describes on its website. "If you drop an apple on Earth, it falls at [the force of gravity]. If an astronaut on the space station drops an apple, it falls too. It just doesn't look like it's falling."
"That's because they're all falling together: the apple, the astronaut and the station," the space agency explains.
In "Gravity," distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, gravity is more than a physical force.
"It was a fundamental character of the film," Cuarón said.
As audiences will see when the film opens nationwide on Oct. 4, in "Gravity" Bullock's character, Dr. Ryan Stone, is a first-time astronaut who finds herself struggling against microgravity to regain a hold on her life, both literally and figuratively.
To that end, Bullock described gravity as "an adversary."
"I mean, the lack of gravity is the adversary, but it is also the metaphor in feeling so out of control in life," Bullock told collectSPACE.com. "Here, we are able to show it as a physical thing rather than the metaphor. The metaphor now becomes an actual adversary that your body does not know how to control."
During the making of the film, Bullock sought advice from NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who at the time was on board the International Space Station, about moving while being weightless. Cuarón said it was very important that they recreated the physical environment as accurately as possible to convey the story he wanted "Gravity" to tell.
"We were trying to be as scientifically and as physically accurate to the laws of microgravity and zero resistance — another phenomena that happens when you don't have atmosphere and don't have gravity," said Cuarón. "There is no resistance. So, if you throw a ball, the ball does not drop, it just keeps traveling until a different force changes [its] trajectory."Whereas past films set in space relied on platforms, wire rigs, or, as in the 1995 "Apollo 13," a real reduced gravity environment achieved aboard an airplane flying parabolas, for "Gravity," Cuarón and his team invented entirely new systems to generate the illusion of being weightless.
A set piece, dubbed the "Light Box," made up of large flat panels fitted with thousands of tiny LED lights, allowed Bullock and her co-star George Clooney to be illuminated while cameras, which were mounted on large, computer-controlled robot arms, circled around them. The end result, when combined with state-of-the-art CGI renderings, gave Cuarón the ability to move the universe around the actors, giving the impression the characters were moving through space.
However, just as important as the visual effects were, the actors' — and in particular, Bullock needed to convey the emotional experience of being thrown into space and the internal struggle she faced of righting herself to the world.
"The lack of gravity is the perfect way to describe not being able to ground yourself," Bullock observed. "Gravity being the thing that you're like, 'Okay, if we know we have our feet on the ground, we know we can at least stand up. We can at least take a step in the right direction and have our faculties back in an environment that makes sense to us.'"
NASA Congratulates 'Gravity' on Academy Award Wins
NASA congratulates everyone involved with producing the movie "Gravity" for all of the Oscar wins, especially Alfonso Cuarón for winning "Best Director" at the 86th Academy Awards Ceremony held on March 2, 2014.
Aboard the International Space Station, NASA Astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio and JAXA Astronaut Koichi Wakata congratulate the filmmakers and actors of the Academy Award-winning film "Gravity" on their achievement.
Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in Warner Bros. Pictures' dramatic thriller "Gravity," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
In the Warner Bros. movie "Gravity," two astronauts find themselves adrift in space and struggling for survival after their spacecraft is destroyed by space debris. Although this scenario makes for gripping Hollywood entertainment, NASA actively works to protect its astronauts and vehicles from the dangers portrayed in the movie.
From protective material coating the outside of the International Space Station to meticulous and methodical training on the ground and in space covering everything from spacewalking to fires or decompression inside the space station, NASA's ground crews and astronauts are as prepared as they can be for potential anomaly, no matter how remote they may be.
On Sept. 16, Expedition 26 astronaut Cady Coleman spoke with actress Sandra Bullock to discuss Bullock’s character in the movie. While developing her role, Bullock gave Coleman a call while she was aboard the space station. At the time, the actress asked Coleman to elaborate on what it’s like living and moving about in microgravity. “I told her that I had long hair, and if you pulled a hair out and pushed it against something, you could move yourself across the space station,” said Coleman. “That’s how little force it takes."
Featured alongside Bullock and George Clooney, “Gravity” has another major star: the International Space Station. Look closely during the film’s interior shots of the space station and you may get a glimpse into what’s really going on 240 miles above Earth. To focus on the facts behind the fiction, Coleman recalled her own experience living and working in space aboard the orbiting laboratory after an advanced screening of the film. “This isn’t a documentary; it’s a movie,” said Coleman. “It transports people from this planet into space. I am really lucky, as an astronaut, to get to go and live there.”
Viewers of the movie may notice that free water forms spheres in space. Although special effects helped this occur in the movie, this is a true phenomenon. It is the result of surface tension, and the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE) is helping predict liquid behavior in microgravity. Coleman gained hands-on experience with this investigation during Expedition 26, assisting researchers in studying how fluids flow in containers with complex geometries. These findings provide insight used to build better ground water transportation on Earth, as well as improved cooling capabilities for electronics using heat pipes. This information also applies to the design for fuel tanks in spacecraft for long duration exploration.
Fire also plays a role in the movie, and two studies underway on the space station touch on this topic: the Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) investigation and the Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX). FLEX recently made headlines when the space station study led to the discovery of cool flames. Findings from BASS may contribute to improved fire suppression methods for spacecraft. FLEX may lead to improved fuel efficiency on Earth and minimize pollutants in our atmosphere associated with combustion.
Scientists use microgravity combustion research to understand better the dynamic nature of how fuels burn and flames operate. “This research lets us make more accurate measurements for an easier math problem to solve," said Coleman. "Things burn in a different way in space, allowing us to understand the mechanism of burning itself—how soot is produced, how pollution happens—things happen more slowly, so we are able to better measure them.”
Another area of science conducted in space in the film is plant growth. “I was pleased to have the movie show something that we actually do on the space station,” said Coleman. “Up in space, we are forced to grow things in an alternative way. Just growing them in the dirt is not always the most logistically feasible option. In trying to understand those lessons, we learn how to minimize resources and still grow something.”
Coleman worked with biology investigations on the space station and during the STS-93 shuttle mission, including Plant Growth Investigations in Microgravity (PGIM-1). This study monitored the plant known as mouse-ear cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) for its response to the stress of the space environment. “We looked at the wavelengths of light, how much light, what kind of medium they could grow in besides dirt, what kind of nutrients they needed and how to stress them in certain ways,” said Coleman.
Handling the seedlings in microgravity was a step towards the space station’s Vegetable Production System (Veggie) facility, where the crew will be able to grow more robust plants suitable for consumption, such as lettuce and tomatoes. The goal for this facility is to provide the crew with a fresh, nutritious and safe source of food for long duration exploration. Growing plants in space can also support relaxation and recreation. Veggie delivers nutrients and lighting to crops, while using the cabin environment for carbon dioxide to promote growth and temperature control. “If we are going to go to Mars, we are not going to be able to bring everything we need to eat," points out Coleman. "This is why it’s important to understand how to grow food in space.”
Space station research will continue for years to come as the findings from the many studies build on the current collection of human knowledge. The work done aboard the International Space Station goes far beyond entertainment value, Coleman pointed out, touching on the nature of the human spirit. “Our planet sits in a neighborhood within the universe, and we are all space explorers," said Coleman. "I think space movies, in general, bring that message home to us. Whether we live with our feet on the planet or whether we live on the space station, we are all space travelers and we are a people of space exploration.”