Astronaut Gave 'Gravity' Advice to Sandra Bullock
NASA/Warner Bros. via collectSPACE.com
Astronaut Cady Coleman (at left) advised actress Sandra Bullock how to be an astronaut for the film "Gravity."
Nothing says “astronaut” quite like a spacesuit. Whether it’s the shiny aluminized nylon flight suits worn by the original Mercury Seven astronauts or the pressurized bright orange “pumpkin suits” worn by space shuttle crews, the clothes do make the man or the woman. It’s much more than a look; the suits could be the only thing that separates an astronaut from life or death in case of an emergency. Here’s a look at some spacesuits in NASA’s storerooms.
With the end of the space shuttle program, NASA began working on a spacesuit that astronauts could wear for forays into deep space, beyond where the space station flies. Last month, the agency awarded an 18-month, $4.4-million contract to ILC Dover to design, manufacture and test a new type of spacesuit called the Z-2. Pictured here is a predecessor prototype, the Z-1, which resembles something Buzz Lightyear might have in his closet. The design is intended to be more comfortable and more flexible for spacewalkers than the Extravehicular Mobility Units, or EMU, that spacewalkers wear today.
NASA looked to the U.S. Navy when it came time to design a spacesuit for its first group of astronauts, the Mercury Seven, pictured here, who were selected in 1959. The agency modified a version of high altitude jet aircraft pressure suit. Beneath the shiny layer of aluminized nylon is an inner layer of Neoprene-coated nylon.
It wasn’t enough to simply land on the moon. The Apollo astronauts were tasked to get out of their spaceship and walk around. Three crews even got to drive around in lunar rovers. Their spacesuits were the first to include a liquid-cooled inner garment and an outer layer to protect against micrometeoroid impacts. Pictured here is the iconic shot of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin taken by his crew mate and commander, Neil Armstrong.
NASA dropped pressurized flight suits for space shuttle crews after four test flights. When Vance Brand, Bob Overmyer, Joe Allen and Bill Lenoir blasted off aboard Columbia on Nov. 11, 1982, for the fifth shuttle mission they wore just blue flights suits with oxygen helmets.
After the 1986 shuttle Challenger accident, NASA beefed-up safety requirements, which included a redesign flight suit for astronauts to wear during launch and landing. The so-called “pumpkin suits” evolved into the Advanced Crew Escape Suit, pictured here. The full-pressure suit is based on U.S. Air Force high-altitude pressure suits worn by SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 spy plane pilots. It includes a parachute pack and harness, life raft, life preserver, gloves, oxygen manifolds and valves, boots and survival gear.
To protect astronauts working outside the shuttle or the space station, NASA developed the Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU. It’s more like a self-contained satellite than a spacesuit, offering spacewalkers environmental protection, life support and communications. The two-piece semi-rigid suit, which weighs about 300 pounds, is one of two kinds used on the space station today. The other is one-piece semi-rigid Russian Orlan suit. Astronaut Steve Robinson, attached to the Canadarm2 during STS-114 in 2005, is pictured here.
NASA has studied dozens of spacesuit designs over the years, including the AX-5, pictured here, which was developed at the Ames Research Center in California. The high-pressure suit uses hard metal and a composite rigid exoskeleton design.
Many old spacesuits end up in museums. But this decommissioned Russian Orlan suit took on a new life as a low-cost satellite. Dubbed SuitSat, the discarded spacesuit was filled with old clothes, outfitted with a radio transmitter and released into Earth orbit on Feb. 3, 2006. It was eventually pulled back into the atmosphere by the planet’s gravity and burned up.
Cady Coleman had just finished watching Sandra Bullock in the "The Blind Side" when the actress reached out to her for advice.
Coleman, a self-described fan, had never met or spoken to Bullock before and so the contact in the spring of 2011 came out of the blue, or more appropriately, the blackness of outer space.
A veteran NASA astronaut, Coleman was about two-thirds of her way through a 5-month stay aboard the International Space Station at the time. Bullock, meanwhile, was set to portray an astronaut in director Alfonso Cuarón's movie, "Gravity" (opening in theaters on Oct. 4). (See Photos from 'Gravity,' a Space Thriller)
In the highly-anticipated film, Bullock and co-star George Clooney are astronauts on a routine spacewalk when they are violently separated from their space shuttle. Bullock's performance as "Dr. Ryan Stone" needed to be believable if "Gravity" was to convey to audiences the experience of being stranded in space.
But it wasn't Cuarón or Warner Brothers Pictures or even NASA that brought the real and on-screen space travelers in touch. Instead, it was a chance meeting between their family members.
"It was through my younger brother who's in the innovative wine packaging business," Coleman told collectSPACE.com in her first interview about advising Bullock for the film. "He met Sandra Bullock's sister, who is a chef."
The siblings of the astronaut and actress spoke and Bullock's sister asked if Coleman would be amenable to answering some questions from space.
As it just so happened, Coleman was watching Bullock's Academy Award-winning performance in "The Blind Side" when the two first connected.
"It was really ironic that I'd be watching this movie while running on the [space station's] treadmill and the next day receive an email with her contact information," Coleman said.
Astronaut Cady Coleman (at left) advised actress Sandra Bullock how to be an astronaut for the film "Gravity."NASA/Warner Bros. via collectSPACE.com
Aligning the star with space
Coleman and Bullock exchanged emails but they agreed it would be nicer if they could talk by phone. That required a bit of space-to-ground coordination.
"The big problem is you can't really call us on the station, unless it is an emergency or official," Coleman explained. "But we can call you because we have an internet protocol phone."
"So the only way we could really talk was for her to share her phone number and a list of times when we could talk," Coleman said.
It was Bullock's first lesson in what it is like to live in space.
"She wanted to know about what it is like to physically live up there and physically move around. 'What would you do with your hands? With your feet? What would be a natural position to work?" How often do you see your crewmates? Where do you meet each other?' It was those kinds of things," Coleman recalled.
Bullock, who didn't share much about the movie she was making ("I didn't want to push her to share that," Coleman said), expressed a general interest about life in space.
"We did not share any secrets, personal or professional. I don't know if I have any," Coleman remarked. "It was just a genuine exchange of information. She asked really good questions. I came out of it thinking 'I am really glad that this woman is making a movie about what it is like to live in space.'"
But it wasn't just helping to make a movie that Coleman relished from her conversation with Bullock.
"We talked on the phone for that one long time, which was certainly a nice morale thing for me," the astronaut told collectSPACE.com. "I'm up there on the station with five guys and to get to talk to somebody who, even instantly on the phone, is so personable, it was like talking to a girlfriend."
Coleman and Bullock were only able to arrange one call but Coleman then followed up with e-mailed audio clips, as she and her crewmates thought of more things to tell the actress.
"I took the questions that Sandra asked me and I brought them to the dinner table," Coleman said. "My crew and I would talk about what we thought about them or what else we would tell her."
"We're working hard up there and the days are really long, so it was pretty neat to have somebody that you've looked up to on the screen from afar to [get in touch]," she said.
The 'Gravity' of the situation
Coleman doesn't know yet how Bullock applied her advice to the performance...
Click here to continue reading at collectSPACE.com about why Coleman believes films such as "Gravity" are important to the future of space exploration.
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