Those are two words you'll be thinking a lot when you watch Gravity, the new film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, who play two NASA astronauts stranded in space after satellite debris turns their mission into harrowing hell. The visuals and drama are jaw-dropping. Director James Cameron has called it "the best space film ever done," featuring the "best space photography ever done." Bullock, who occupies most of the screen time, delivers a flooring, commanding performance. And to prepare, she sought out the advice and wisdom of one NASA astronaut: Catherine "Cady" Coleman.
Cuarón and his team didn't spend much time consulting NASA for the film. However, Bullock did reach out to Coleman, a retired US Air Force colonel and astronaut who has been at NASA for 21 years and has spent 180 days in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station. Coleman lives in Houston and commutes back and forth from her family home in Massachusetts. When she's not being launched into space, she enjoys playing music, mainly on her flute. The first time Bullock and Coleman communicated, Coleman was aboard the ISS, orbiting somewhere between 230 and 286 miles above the Earth's surface.
"It took a couple email cycles because I only got to email four times a day in space," Coleman tells Mother Jones. "After you reply, they don't get your email for another four hours." After they finally connected, the two chatted over the phone a few times about life in space and floating in microgravity. "Sandra wanted to know how we move up there, when we're still and when we're not still, what it was like in a space suit," Coleman says.
"How come we don't get to talk to Sandra Bullock?" joked the male members of her crew, including Ron Garan, who would make lighthearted comments such as, "Ah, you talked to Sandra, didn't you…Did she ask about me?"