Astronaut Sandra H. Magnus talks ‘Gravity’

Dr. Sandra H. Magnus, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about her experience with space exploration in celebration of the release of the new space-based thriller “Gravity.”

In “Gravity,” which opens Friday, Oct. 4 at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play a medical engineer and an astronaut who work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Listen to “Breakthrough Entertainment’s” full interview with Dr. Magnus by clicking HERE. The following is an excerpt from the interview in which the astronaut discusses the safeguards against and contingency plans for emergencies similar to the one seen in “Gravity.”

We work very hard to not let that happen. That is not a good situation. Whenever we do spacewalks, we are always tethered. We have a safety tether on our spacesuit attached firmly at a permanent place on the station. Then you have sort of a pulley reel that unwinds the safety tether as you move around. So you are always attached by the safety tether.

Then, let’s say I am working on an ammonia tank or I am installing an antenna or some other piece of equipment. I will take another tether and local tether myself there. So if my local tether breaks, I am still on the safety tether. And if the safety tether breaks, we have a jet-pack and you can fly back to the station if you don’t separate too quickly.

We actually train for that in a virtual reality environment that will put us in a tumble as if we have just fallen off the station. We have to stabilize our orientation and then figure out how to fly back. You have to take orbital mechanics into account when you do that. We have to be able to do that at a certain rate.

You get blasted so many feet per second and you have to be able to fly yourself back in order to be certified. So we have two or three levels of redundancy there because if you fly off and cannot fly yourself back based on the resources you have in your jet pack,. you are kind of in a bad place because the station can’t come and get you like the shuttle could.” – Dr. Sandra H. Magnus

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at

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