Director Alfonso Cuarón's visually stunning film "Gravity," in theaters today, is already being heralded as one of the year's best movies. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as astronauts whose mission goes spectacularly wrong when a cloud of orbital debris shreds their shuttle, cuts off communication and leaves them stranded in space.
These details have already been revealed in the film's trailers, but what the previews can't convey is the impressive sense of authenticity and verisimilitude that director Cuarón brings to the big screen. Thanks to a brilliant visual design and strategic use of 3-D effects, the movie feels like being in space.
That sense of authenticity also applies to the film's depiction of the specifics of an actual NASA space mission. It's clear that the filmmakers did their homework. The movie is careful to stay within the realm of plausibility demanded by the genre of hard science fiction.
But just to be sure, we asked former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao -- a veteran of three shuttle missions, four space walks and a six-month stint on the International Space Station -- to help us separate the science from the fiction. Warning: Several significant plot spoilers dead ahead.