Gravity is the stunning space movie from Alfonso Cuarón, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who survive the destruction of a Space Shuttle and are left, stranded, fighting to get back to Earth.
But for real-life Astronauts Dr. Mike Massimino & Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman, they never wanted to come home. “I lived up there for six months on a space station, I had two shuttle missions and my thought was the shuttle missions was, ‘This is just not long enough and people are supposed to live here,'” says Coleman.
“One of our crewmates, Don Pettit puts it best, he says, ‘if I could bring my family, there is just no reason to ever come home.’ We’re a planet of explorers. Everyone living on the planet is living in space as well, we just happen to be living closer to this planet. It’s what people were meant to do.
In a physical sense, it’s incredible. Some of it’s inconvenient, but it’s incredibly magical and delightful. It’s like living the life of Peter Pan. I’m not especially coordinated down here and I got to fly everywhere. And I loved it.”
For Dr. Mike Massimino, whose flights were to the Hubble Space Telescope, the view of Earth was so breathtaking it reduced him to tears. “The thought that went through my mind was, ‘God did not intend people to see this,’ and I turned my head.
“And then not even two seconds later I got over that! It was a perfect time – the light was right on the planet and I had downtime. I started to tear up and got emotional. And I also got worried because those suits aren’t very big and having water in it is not a good thing, even a little bit, so I had to get myself under control. Otherwise I would’ve had to confess that I was crying in space. It’s hard to tell the story without getting emotional now.”
Alfonso Cuarón’s movie aims to transport audiences from their cinema seats to space, with its mind-blowing vistas. Space is the real star of this film. Massimino describes the practicalities of spacewalking:
“When you go outside and spacewalk, you become a scuba diver, and the thought that went through my mind is, ‘wow, I’m a real spaceman now!'” he recalls. “You’re in your own space suit, you can’t go to the bathroom that conveniently, you have no food, there’s a drink bag, but you have this amazing view.”
The hard part is leaving loved ones behind, but knowing you’re signing up for a return journey makes it easier. Dr. Coleman explains how she prepared to leave her family for 6 months: “I started training three years before I left. As soon as it’s announced that you’re training, you know people are going to talk about it to your kids.
“So I said, ‘listen, I am going to be training for the space station’ – my son was seven then – ‘I’m not going to go when you’re in first grade, or second grade, or even third grade. But when you’re in fourth grade, I am going to go and live on a space station most of the time you’re in fourth grade. I’ll be home right around the time you get out of school.’ So they can set their expectations. I think this movie is interesting in that it brings up a lot of issues to our space family. I think people will be thinking of different ways they want to prepare their family about that.”
“I’ll just tell ’em, ‘it’s a movie, don’t pay attention to that!'” says Massimino, referring to the disaster that this cinematic space adventure becomes.
“But on a lighter note,” adds Coleman, “my first mission was delayed 7 times over 30 days because it was a shuttle launch during hurricane season in Florida. We had a mechanical problem and then delay after delay after delay. I went from having a busload of family, because I have 9 brothers and sisters, to a family minivan at the end. I said goodbye 7 times to my husband. At the end he said, ‘will you just go?'”