6 Insane Things About Space Travel That Movies Got Right
Space travel is inherently amazing, even if as a culture we tend to forget that for decades at a time. That's why when Hollywood sets out to write up a good old-fashioned space adventure, it often just rips real scenes from the pages of history -- it really is hard to top them. Those scenes have found their way into blockbusters and were probably dismissed as ridiculous by most of the audience. Like in ...
The Martian -- Matt Damon's Blood Seals A Hole In His Spacesuit
The Martian opens with a violent windstorm that forces Matt Damon and his fellow Mars inhabitants (whatever those are called) to get the hell out of Dodge. Before Damon can make his getaway, the storm slams him with debris, rolling him down a hill and installing a shiny new antenna in his abdomen. With the wind threatening to destroy their escape craft, his crewmates are forced to leave him for dead.
"Dibs on his dessert rations."
Luckily for Damon's character (not to mention the runtime of the movie), the blood that spouts from his puncture wound congeals around the damaged area of his suit and keeps it pressurized, allowing him to survive long enough to awaken and realize just how supremely fucked he is.
The Real-Life Counterpart:
This is the kind of gruesome detail that could have been dreamed up only by a truly sick bastard or, you know, reality. During a 1991 mission on Space Shuttle Atlantis, astronaut Jerome III "Jay" Apt, Ph.D. (just III to his friends) was on a routine spacewalk while trying out some not-so-routine gloves: He and his fellow spacewalker were both evaluating new 5000 series gloves, which we're guessing cost more than your car. After returning to the shuttle and removing the gloves, Apt found that he had a small puncture wound on his right index finger, which he hadn't even noticed while "so hopped" on adrenaline from, you know, walking in space.
As it turns out, the wound was a less deadly version of Damon's wound from The Martian. As Apt worked, the palm restraint bar in his glove had wiggled loose, punching a hole between his thumb and forefinger (in both the glove and the hand inside). Luckily, astronauts bleed much the same as mere mortal men, and Apt's wound bled out into space, the coagulating action gluing the loose bar into place and allowing his suit to stay pressurized. So there you go: If you get into a knife fight in space, that shit is not over with the first stab. Keep after him!
Gravity -- Sandra Bullock Nearly Lands In A Watery Grave
After proving several times over that low Earth orbit is a cognizant being capable of harboring an excessive amount of hatred for a single human woman, Gravity's Sandra Bullock overcomes all odds to reenter Earth's atmosphere in a Chinese space capsule. But oh shit, the capsule is on fire! Fortunately, she splashes down in a lake. Unfortunately, when she opens the hatch to escape the fire, water rushes in and sinks the capsule. Then, when she finally manages to get out, her spacesuit holds her deep underwater, threatening to drown her.
Jesus, what exactly did this woman do to the universe, anyway?
The Real-Life Counterpart:
Surviving the dangers of space only to nearly drown upon landing has actually happened more than once. Hell, for a long time water landings were the default kind of landing. It's the unintentional ones you've got to watch out for.
Take the Oct. 15, 1976, landing of Russia's Soyuz 23, for example. After reentry, high winds pushed the capsule 75 miles past its planned landing spot and straight into the icy waters of Lake Tengiz in Kazakhstan. The escape hatch couldn't be blown without freezing water rushing in and turning Vyacheslav Zudov and Valeri Rozhdestvensky into cosmonaut-sicles.
Which we suppose is better than being hunted by wolves.
The two removed their pressure suits, doled out their food rations, and waited for the fog to clear enough for rescue helicopters to arrive. That's when the capsule's reserve parachute spontaneously deployed, filling with freezing water and threatening to drag the capsule to the bottom of the lake. Eventually, a helicopter was able to latch on and drag the capsule to shore, but had the lake not been a frozen sludge, the story would've been a much closer parallel to Bullock's predicament.
For an even similar-er story, we must flip to the Stars-and-Stripier pages of space history. Back in 1961, Gus Grissom -- the second American in space -- splashed down in the Atlantic in his Mercury capsule. Before the capsule had stabilized, the hatch blew and water flooded in. It was sinking, and fast.
Which is why all subsequent spaceflights have come with a floating door
big enough for one person.
Grissom abandoned ship, still spacesuited up. And since he'd inadvertently left an oxygen inlet open in his haste, the suit started taking on water, leaving Grissom struggling to avoid visiting the bottom of the deep blue sea after having so recently visited the wild blue yonder. And just to put a cherry on top of the death-by-drowning sundae, the helicopter pilot tasked with fishing Grissom out took his sweet time doing so. Apparently, struggling desperately against a watery death looks a whole lot like "having a blast swimming in a spacesuit, lol."
"That was fun! Next, let's play a round of Slam A Pilot's Dick In The Helicopter Door."
Die Another Day -- The Icarus Space Mirror Was An Upscaled Version Of A Real Satellite
In the Bond film Die Another Day, British billionaire Gustav Graves unveils the Icarus, a massive space mirror that is ostensibly designed to boost agricultural output by providing year-round sunlight for crops:
Despite intense lobbying from the tanning salon industry.
It's like some supervillain handed Galactus an immense magnifying glass and giddily awaited entire nations to start scorching like ants, only to discover that he confused Galactus with his farm-friendly big brother, Earl. Of course, this being a Bond film, Icarus wasn't a crop booster so much as it was a superweapon meant to burn a swath through the Korean DMZ and allow all the crazy to spill out of North Korea into South Korea -- because British billionaire Gustav Graves was actually North Korean Colonel Tan-Sun Moon all along.
And you thought the gigantic space mirror was far-fetched.
The Real-Life Counterpart:
The Russians totally planned to put a giant mirror in space to reduce energy dependency and augment crop yields.
And totally not for enemy-crisping purposes.
In 1993, the Mir space station deployed the Znamya 2 satellite, which then unfurled a 65-foot mirror that lit up the dark side of the Earth in a three-mile swath with a brightness two to three times that of the full moon. This being a proof-of-concept mission, the mirror was uncontrolled and only appeared as a brief flash of light in the sky over parts of Europe before deorbiting and burning up.
In the next step of their plan to continually up the scale, Russian scientists launched the Znamya 2.5 in 1999. This time, the mirror had an 82-foot diameter, allowing it to light up a more than four-mile area with the intensity of somewhere between five and 10 full moons. Unfortunately, the mirror got caught on one of Mir's antennas, was ripped all to hell, and failed to deploy. Thus shamed, Znamya 2.5 followed its predecessor into an atmospheric funeral pyre.
"In times of war, it can be relocated over the United States to partially block out
the sun over a small area, thus marginally raising their electric bills!"
There hasn't been any progress on the space mirror project since, possibly because Vladimir Putin had the entirety of Russia's mirror supply relocated to the Kremlin when he entered office.
2010 -- Astronauts Revive A Dead And Frozen Spacecraft
In the sequel to the acclaimed film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Martin Brody is tasked with investigating the perplexing failure of the Discovery One mission to Jupiter (aka the plot of the first film). After Brody and his team reluctantly team up with a Soviet crew because the Russkies are the only ones with a spacecraft capable of getting them there (how prophetic!), two astronauts approach the long-dead Discovery, its outer hull now tinged yellow from nine long years of being volcanically peed upon by Jupiter's moon Io. They enter to find the air still breathable, but so cold that not even the entire audience's simultaneous exclamation of, "Whatever you do, DO NOT TURN HAL BACK ON!" could help warm it.
"Also, just let the monolith thing go, because people get all douchey
and condescending if you say you don't get the point of them."
The Real-Life Counterpart:
When the temporarily vacant Salyut 7 space station shut down in 1985 from an electrical surge that we're almost certain wasn't related to the birth of a new space-baby, the Russians had two options: abandon the station and wait for its heir, Mir, to be ready, or send a rescue mission to attempt repairs. They decided it was worth saving and, four months later, veteran cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Viktor Savinykh blasted off with orders to fix that son of a bitch or die trying. No Americans were invited, this being mid-1985 and all.
As Dzhanibekov manually docked their transport with the station (no power meant no fancy computer assistance), they noticed that the exterior of the station, normally a welcoming green, was now "gray tinged with rust." The men proceeded through three hatches -- unsure at each junction whether there would actually be air on the other side -- to get to the main work area of the station, where they were greeted by the outer-space equivalent of a haunted house.
It was the kind of place where you can easily pick up a case
of simultaneous frostbite/tetanus/facehugger.
The interior of the station was dark. Dead quiet. Resting at a toasty 3 to 4 degrees, frost coated the walls and instruments, and otherworldly icicles had formed in zero gravity. In possibly the most manly scientific experiment ever performed, Dzhanibekov spit and measured how long it took his loogie to freeze (three seconds flat). He probably should have saved his slobber, however, because the station's water supplies were frozen solid, forcing the two-man crew to rely on the 12-day emergency supply they'd brought with them. Incredibly, by the 10th day they were able to recharge the station's depleted batteries, replace its fried electronics, and thaw out its water storage system -- all while working inside the station one at a time to avoid using up all the goddamned air.
Space Cowboys -- An Astronaut Violently Demonstrates The Point Of Safety Tethers
Space Cowboys is a sci-fi disaster film/flimsy excuse for Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones to demonstrate that, no matter how old and rickety they may get, you will never be half as cool as they are. In one scene, a whippersnapper portrayed by Loren Dean goes spacewalking in an attempt to single-handedly return a malfunctioning, nuke-bedecked Soviet satellite to a safe orbit:
"It sure is a good thing those heat tiles on the Space Shuttle aren't super fragile!"
When Dean plugs a cable into the satellite, it spits out a ball of pure, pent-up contempt for America and all it stands for (or an electrical outburst, maybe), thrusting him to the end of his safety tether like a human yo-yo and surely straining his spacesuit's waste management system to its outright limits. The guy proceeds to get battered around by rogue ship parts, each one threatening to hurl him into the deep void of space:
"Someone explain why we didn't get a cosmonaut to do this again?!"
Yes, we realize this also happens to Sandra Bullock in Gravity 20 to 30 times, but we've used her as an example already. The point is, in a movie, doing repairs in space is a violent, dangerous series of death-defying stunts. In real life it's probably more like changing a car tire, only slower.
The Real-Life Counterpart:
As Skylab, America's first space station, tore through the atmosphere during its launch in 1973, the atmosphere tore back: Skylab lost a meteoroid shield, which in turn busted up the tie-downs securing its solar arrays in the flight position. One array was completely torn off; the other got stuck and couldn't deploy. Without that remaining array to power its electrical systems, Skylab was a giant, floating paperweight.
"Dammit, we already had patches made up for the next mission."
Because this was the tail end of the era in which "Danger" was every American's middle name, a crew was sent up to attempt manual repairs. Specifically, they sent Pete "Danger" Conrad, Joe "Danger" Kerwin, and Paul "Danger" Weitz, whose plan was to piece together a long-ass pole and jab at the stuck array until it came loose, because sometimes the scientific solution is the same as the one you'd come up with when you have an itchy back.
"Is it too late to call this off? I have a sudden back itch."
After one failed attempt with what was basically a lengthy shepherd's hook, Kerwin and Conrad ventured out onto the surface of Skylab for a second go -- this time with cable cutters fitted to the end of the aforementioned long-ass pole. But hard as he pulled, Kerwin couldn't get the cable cutters to close, and Conrad edged his way to the end of the pole to investigate. Just as he reached the problem area, the jaws snapped shut and partially freed the solar array, slapping Conrad away like a fly at a picnic and "hurling him 'ass over teakettles' into space," as one account put it.
He was tethered to Skylab, of course, so after boinging around like a doofus, he rejoined Kerwin to try to free the array the rest of the way. They hooked a tether to it and tug-of-warred it with all their strength until it flew open, this time catapulting both men into space. Their tethers saved the day (again), and they even shared a good laugh about it with mission control -- because what else are you supposed to do when the cold, infinite nothing of space threatens to endlessly swallow you? Scream?
"Well, before you lose radio contact with me, let me graphically describe sex with all of your mothers."
Armageddon -- The Crew Fixes A Spacecraft's Electrical System By Bashing The Hell Out Of It
When the intrepid roughnecks-cum-astronauts of Armageddon try to escape the surface of the Texas-sized asteroid that threatens to kick off K-T Extinction 2: Electric Boogaloo, their shuttle's engines refuse to start. Oh, and they're trying to leave because the nuke they planted is about to rend the asteroid in two, so it's sort of a "T-minus shit your pants" situation.
In desperation, the token cosmonaut tosses the token lady astronaut aside and whales on the ship's electrical system with a big-ass wrench. And it works, because this is a movie, and beating the ever-loving shit out of your problems is how you fix stuff in movies.
But in real life, that only works, like, half the time.
The Real-Life Counterpart:
OK, time to come clean: We completely misled you on this one. It wasn't a Russian; it was a fellow American. Also, he didn't beat on sensitive equipment with a wrench, because that would be completely ludicrous.
He used a hammer.
A space hammer!
To relay this story, we must return once again to the first manned mission to Skylab and, in his second appearance on this list (we'll leave it to you to decide if that's a good thing), astronaut Pete Conrad. Even after completing their immeasurably ballsy repairs to the station's solar arrays, a seized electrical relay threatened to render the crew's 28-day mission a bust. So Conrad once again ventured out onto the surface of Skylab and, acting on advice from mission control, went straight to town on that relay with a hammer.
"Boy, is he hitting it!" fellow crewmember Paul Weitz laughed, because laughter is the best medicine to fend off trauma-induced insanity. But as crazy as it sounds, it worked: Power to the station was restored, and the very first mission to America's very first space station could resume as planned.
And you're not even going to believe this, but that wasn't the first time Conrad had released his inner Thor in space. Four years earlier, after landing Apollo 12 on the moon, Conrad and co. were having difficulty with the electric generator used to power their experiments. See, the generator's fuel element -- a little thing known as fucking plutonium -- had gotten stuck in its cask, a well-shielded cask designed to protect the crew from fucking nuclear radiation. So Conrad repeatedly whacked the cask with a hammer until the (again, radioactive) fuel element worked its way out.
"Never come to the moon without a hammer," he said, and we'll need to remember to revise that saying when it comes time to launch a mission to Mars.
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Space travel isn't the only thing Hollywood rips off its ideas from. See where else in 5 Modern Horror Scenes Ripped Out Of History Books and 14 Jokes You Didn't Know Movies & TV Stole From History.
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