Astronaut Cady Coleman Gave Sandra Bullock Advice for 'Gravity'SKYE asked the astronaut about their conversation and the heart-stopping film
Sandra Bullock in "Gravity." (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)
NASA astronaut Cady Coleman was soaring 230 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station in the spring of 2011 when she got word that Sandra Bullock wanted to talk with her.
Bullock was co-starring with George Clooney in Alfonso Cuarón's space thriller "Gravity," which opens Friday. She was preparing to play an astronaut hurled into space after disaster strikes her shuttle mission, and she wanted Coleman's insights for the role. Coleman, oddly, had just watched Bullock's film, "The Blind Side." The two were put in touch through family members, and soon after, Coleman called Bullock from space.
SKYE asked Coleman, who's now back on Earth and working on other NASA projects, about their conversation and her thoughts on the film.
SKYE: So what did you and Sandra talk about?
Coleman: She asked what it was like to be up there, what it was like to move around in a space suit and inside the space station. I told her that if you took a single human hair and put it between your hands like a piece of dental floss, and you pushed off of a doorway or handle, you could float across the space station. That's what it's like being in zero gravity. It's so effortless.
We also talked about what it felt like to live in the space station and have everyone you care about be back on Earth. For me, it was kind of a compartmentalization where you're in this place; you have these important things you have to do and you really have to be up there and be present, because if you're not, that's dangerous. You have to put things you're sad about or wistful and regretful about in a special box.
SKYE: You've seen the movie. What did you think of it?
Coleman: I loved it. Watching it was a very emotional thing for me. What's most fascinating to me is the incredible visuals and audio. They give you not only the view of the Earth but what it feels like to have that view, and what it feels like to live in a place that's amazing and awesome and very dangerous.
Devastation happens in the movie. You see it in the trailer. Just the visual picture of a space vehicle where everything isn't neatly tied down is horrific. It says in a visual way that something is very wrong there.
It's a dangerous job, but we're supposed to leave our planet and live up there. Really, everyone on Earth is a space traveler, they just happen to live on that sphere.
SKYE: In the movie, things go wrong during a spacewalk. Have you done a spacewalk?
No. I did have my suit up and was ready to walk out the door once. We had no planned maintenance outside. We were absolutely hoping for something expensive to break out there so we could. We had an alarm ring in the middle of the night once. We all looked at the screen to see what was going on. [Astronaut] Scott Kelly goes, "Yes, we're going." Everybody wants to do that. Then they called us [from mission control] and said, "Hey, we have a spare up there. You guys go back to bed." We were like, "Oh."
SKYE: What a letdown. People are wondering how realistic the film is. What did you think?
Coleman: When people ask me if that could happen - it's not the point. When you go to the movies or read a book, you want someone to take you someplace you couldn't go by yourself.
SKYE: Agreed. But you understand why people ask.
Coleman: Yes. I think all of the risks that this movie addresses are real. All the problems that go on are real. They're just a little sensationalized and happen in the same day.
We think about getting thrown off the station while we're doing a spacewalk. We think about that all the time. We have a retractable leash we're on. And when we work, we have to hook on. You always have this hook so that as soon as you get some place and let go, you're not going to float off of the station. We practice that in the pool, and if I forget to use the hook, in seconds, the safety divers have pulled me off of the structure.
SKYE: Sandra Bullock said recently, "I used to think that astronauts wanted to go into space for the thrill and adventure. When I spoke to them though, I was so moved by their deep, deep love of that world and the beauty of Earth from their perspective, seeing the oceans and mountain ranges and the lights of the cities." What inspires you to do this work?
Coleman: I'd say it's more the exploration part of it. In my family, it was normal to think people could go someplace weird and live there. At the end of my first shuttle flight, I didn't want to come home yet.
SKYE: Were you amazed that Alfonso Cuarón and his team could re-create this world so effectively?
Coleman: I said to him, I can't believe you've never been in space. We work pretty hard at NASA, but sometimes you can feel like you're alone, working on this thing that nobody understands. For him to write this and make this film, he must care a lot about the space program and people in space.
SKYE: Thanks, Cady.
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