The new movie "Gravity" — out in theaters nationwide today (Oct. 4) — gives people on the ground a real taste of what it's like to be in space, according to a former NASA astronaut.
"Gravity" follows a fictional spaceflight gone horribly wrong as a space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station and other spacecraft are destroyed, leaving two astronauts (played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded in space.
Before the mayhem, however, there are a few moments of tranquility that can give audience members a sense of what it's like to float weightlessly in space, former astronaut and veteran of four spaceflights Tom Jones said. [See SPACE.com's interview with former NASA astronaut Tom Jones]
"Scenes in this movie are so beautiful and sometimes very peaceful that it does remind me of some of the dreams I've had or some of the experiences I've had floating and looking out the window at night on the dark side of the planet," Jones told SPACE.com on Thursday (Oct. 3) at a "Popular Mechanics" screening of the new film. "It's very evocative of the real space experience."
And Jones would know. He has performed three spacewalks, clocking 19 spacewalking hours, and has spent 52 days in space.
During one of his flights, Jones asked Mission Control in Houston for five minutes to himself on the front tip of the space station while he was ahead of schedule performing a spacewalk. He saw the Pacific Ocean beneath his boots and the International Space Station's solar panels above him in perfect silence.
"It was just such a beautiful sight that tears came to my eyes with the idea that I was actually witnessing this," Jones said. "What a moment of privilege … There are little snippets in the movie where you actually get that impression of how awe-inspiringly beautiful it is to a human being to experience that."
While it might be nice to get a taste of spaceflight again, Jones thought it was sad to see the space station he helped build get demolished. (WARNING: Spoiler ahead.)
"It's sort of sad in the movie that lots of bad things happen and at the end of the movie nobody is left in space, there are no bases there anymore," Jones said. "But that supports the thrill and excitement of the story. It's just a plot element that you have to buy into."
Jones admits that some of the riveting tension in "Gravity" can be mildly reminiscent of the more tense moments in space.
"An astronaut does have those same kinds of anxious feelings [depicted in 'Gravity']," Jones said. "It's a lot like stage fright. I haven't had any moments of sheer terror in space, but we know those moments are possible and we train to avoid those moments at any cost."
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