Depictions of Space Flight in Film

Scientists have spent a lot of time shaping films concerned with space flight in science fiction. NASA spent a lot of time advising the producers of the 2015 film Martian. Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist, shaped Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) to make it an accurate depiction of time dilation consistent with Einstein’s Special Relativity. Kevin Grazier, a planetary physicist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan, also advised the producers of the 2013 film Gravity. How have the interactions between scientists and filmmakers shaped the depiction of space travel in science fictions films on different occasions?

  • It might be worthwhile to make a distinction between the types of films you're addressing versus the types you aren't, for example space flight in "science fiction" like "The Martian" as opposed to "space fantasy" like "Star Wars." The more "grounded-in-science" films certainly benefit from a realistic representation of space flight; even more "fantastic" sci-fi films like "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Battlestar Galactica" emphasize the technology level of the humans by more realistically depicting how their ships maneuver in space. Stories like "Star Wars" or even parts of Star Trek (especially "Wrath of Khan") that are rooted more in fantasy, however, usually aim to be more exciting than completely physically accurate, so Kirk and Khan circle each other like 18th-century warships exchanging cannon fire in ships that are capable of faster-than-light travel (which is what audiences prefer). Collaboration between scientists and filmmakers in depicting space flight seems more and more useful, but ultimately is more important to science fiction than to space fantasy. – CulturallyOpinionated 2 years ago

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