Movie 'Gravity' pulls you in

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 19:00

If you haven’t yet seen the motion picture “Gravity,” I urge you to go and splurge for the IMAX 3-D. It is quite literally and figuratively an “out of this world” cinematic experience.

Since I was a kid, I have always been captivated by space. Before I was in first grade, I relentlessly drew detailed pictures of rocket ships, showing internal compartments and various onboard systems.

Before I was 8-years-old, I could rattle off the names of our solar system’s planets, in order of their position from the sun, as well as their number of moons. (It was a much easier task than for students today, given the scores of moons discovered around planets such as Jupiter and Saturn).

Braving chilly Alaskan winters, my father took me outdoors to view the stars. Because Seward is closely hemmed in by mountains on both eastern and western sides, I became mostly acquainted with those constellations lying in the southern skies.

In work-related activities with oil company BP, I met two astronauts: Harrison Schmidt, the geologist aboard Apollo 17 who was “the last man on the moon,” and Jim Wetherbee, who commanded some space shuttle missions to the International Space Station (ISS). The former toured Prudhoe Bay in its early production days, while the latter became a BP senior level safety executive after retiring from NASA.

I’ve visited both Cape Kennedy and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and once watched a shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. I own an 8-inch Celestron telescope that allows me to see the ice caps on Mars, Jupiter’s largest moons and some delineation in the rings of Saturn.

But with all this, what I’ve really wanted to do all my life is go into space. Just a few weeks ago at an Anchorage movie theatre, that’s exactly what I did.

And I’m not embarrassed to say I went back a second time. The visual effects in “Gravity” are stunning, making you feel as if you’re orbiting the earth with the two central characters, Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone and George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski.

In both cases, the superb acting adds to the realism. And though the plot is simple, there is a moving backstory that deepens the drama, which is expertly directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

“Gravity” spoiler alert: Stop reading here if you haven’t yet seen the movie. In all of the post-movie reviews and discussions I was surprised that no one has mentioned the key issue and a growing concern to experts in the space industry: space junk, or debris.

According to NASA’s website, (, there are currently 500,000 pieces of space junk bigger than a marble and more than 20,000 as large as a softball orbiting the Earth. The number of flecks at least one millimeter in diameter probably runs into the hundreds of millions. Much of the debris orbiting the Earth is composed of spent rocket bodies, dead satellites and fragments generated when these objects collide.

The NASA Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center is the “lead NASA center for orbital debris research,” according to the Johnson Space Center website. It is “recognized worldwide for its initiative in addressing orbital debris issues.” This office “has taken the international lead in conducting measurements of the environment and in developing the technical consensus for adopting mitigation measures to protect users of the orbital environment.”

If you’d like a safe ride in space, albeit with quite a bit of nail-biting action, hitch a ride in the arm-chair space shuttle at your nearest movie theater — hopefully one that is showing “Gravity” in IMAX 3-D.

I love space and would go up in a heartbeat if I could. But in reality, the movie made me feel extremely grateful that I’m gravity-bound down here on terra firma.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected].

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