In case you haven’t yet seen the new movie “Gravity,” I promise not to spoil the ending for you. That being said, after watching this new sci-fi thriller starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, I was reminded why I made a good choice in not applying to NASA.
First off, let’s correct a common misconception that astronauts float around weightless in space because no gravity is up there. The fact is there is almost the same amount of gravity working on them — about 90 percent — as there is on the rest of us here on Earth. Even though it looks like they are floating weightless in space what is actually happening is that astronauts are falling and this happens because the Earth is curving away from them as fast as they are falling toward it.
But if you still want to be an astronaut, forget about mechanical issues, solar winds and the fact that bacteria multiply faster in space; astronauts have another potential problem: Kessler syndrome.
NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler first proposed the concept in 1978. The Kessler syndrome is a scenario in which so many objects are orbiting the Earth that one collision can cause a cascading chain reaction generating space debris, which increases the likelihood of further collisions.
The implication of the Kessler syndrome is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space exploration and the effective use of satellites impossible for several decades. For someone, such as me, who gets cranky if Facebook is down a couple hours for maintenance, it would mean the end of the Earth as I know it.
While the mathematical probability remains low today, the fact that some of these satellites pass within 200 meters of each other during orbit increases the chances of a collision as the months and years pass.
Besides the obvious solution of simply bringing the satellite crashing down to Earth, NASA could also use a laser to knock debris off a collision course, but that is years away. The culprit in the movie is a Russian satellite that has self-destructed with its remains being launched toward Clooney, Bullock and the other characters working on the International Space Station.
The effects are Academy Award-winning caliber. The acting is in your face and intense. And yes, George Clooney still looks hot … oh, Sandra Bullock has been working out, too. The movie is only about 90 minutes long and you get your money’s worth. Besides, it’s not all bad if you are an astronaut orbiting space. I mean, you get to see the sunrise 16 times in one day. What can beat that?
Category: Science and Reality Today