The crisis in the film is precipitated when the Russians blow up one of their own satellites, triggering a chain reaction that sends a cloud of lethal debris toward our heroes at around, oh, 17,000 mph. Chiao says the dangers of such a scenario are quite real and have been studied extensively.
"Just in recent history, the Chinese conducted an anti-weapons satellite test," Chiao says. "They blew up one of their old weather satellites, which created a bunch of debris."
Could such an incident really set off a chain-reaction that wipes out everything in orbit?
"It's not implausible, but it's unlikely," Chiao says. "Of course, if you have orbital debris, it can damage satellites or other spacecraft and potentially cause them to break up in turn. But the thing is, satellites are actually spaced pretty far apart. To get a cascade or chain reaction is pretty unlikely."