Film trailer – Gravity

It’s all gone a bit Major Tom in Gravity, the latest film from director Alfonso Cuarón that looks like a hat-tip to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“.

A disaster befalls the crew of a space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). Two astronauts, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are on a spacewalk when an explosion sends the shuttle into a spin that rends the station apart, leaving it to fall out of orbit and burn up on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. After what poet Wilfred Owen would call “an ecstasy of fumbling” to try and grab hold of something, Stone is catapulted into the solar system. Alone.

It’s all quite timely, what with the public profile of the ISS at an all-time high thanks to the spectacularly popular tweets of former station commander Chris Hadfield. Before leaving the station, Hadfield signed off by broadcasting to Earth an adapted cover version of “Space Oddity” – a song originally about a man launched into orbit before a malfunction sends him careering off into deep space – his resigned, final communication with mission control is the last that is heard of him.

It will be interesting to see what scale Cuarón chooses to fill this film. I hope he challenges himself to focus on Stone’s feelings of increasing isolation rather than use her as a cut-away from any frantic Earth-bound rescue efforts. It would be nice if this was a minimal space capsule of pure film-making.

Cuarón‘s IMDb profile says that he “always wanted to be a director and an astronaut” so it looks like this could be a labour of love for him. He’s previously handled intimate relationships in Y Tu Mamá También, death in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and apocalyptic disaster in Children of Men. I’m looking forward to a good helping of dark matter.

Gravity will be released in 3D on Friday 13 October and, given the celestial setting, this could be one of the few films worthy of a trip to an IMAX 3D screen.

Star Trek: Into The Darkness – where did you get that warp core?

Scotty (Simon Pegg, in red shirt) and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, far right) in a scene shot at the National Ignition Facility, California

Scotty (Simon Pegg, in red shirt) and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, far right) in a scene from Start Trek: Into The Darkness that was shot at the National Ignition Facility, California

I was sitting in the cinema watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek: Into The Darkness, when I felt a flash of recognition as Captain Kirk and Scotty walked around the engineering decks to stand before the warp core of the USS Enterprise.

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The spherical chamber buried in a mass of gleaming ducting and pipework is actually the target chamber for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California. Filming took place during a scheduled maintenance period in 2012.

The laboratory houses “the world’s largest and highest energy laser system”, delivering 2m joules of ultraviolet laser energy in pulses of a billionth of a second. Experiments provide data about nuclear reactions for use in weapons, energy generation and analysis of the reactions taking place within stars.

The 192 lasers are amplified by passing through lens arrays in two vast warehouses, bouncing back and forth before they are diverted and focused on to a target – not dilithium crystals but a 2mm capsule filled with super-cooled hydrogen fuel. When the lasers strike the capsule it is vaporised in a reaction that creates temperatures of more than 100m degrees centigrade and pressures 100bn times that of the Earth’s atmosphere.

That’s pretty impressive, even if it doesn’t make warp speed. lasers.llnl.gov

Photography: Paramount Pictures; National Ignition Facility