What’s the most accurate movie about space? Well, according to one of the few people who has actually been to space, retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, it’s probably not the movie you’d expect.
“Galaxy Quest,” Stott told Inverse without any hesitation before adding the 1997 Disney comedy Rocket Man as another possible contender. Over the course of her career, Stott logged 103 days in space, which is why it’s intriguing that her go-to picks are comedies, one of which was a loving parody of Star Trek.
But, Stott, who spoke to Inverse ahead of the premiere of National Geographic’s documentary series One Strange Rock on Wednesday, had a good explanation. “Those to movies, to me, there’s just these personal relationships you see between the people. I mean, we’re human beings doing human spaceflight,” she said.
“The best people to work with are the ones that you’re going to have a good time with, but that you also know, when it hits the fan, they’re going to come together, as expected. They’re going to solve the problem,” Stott said.
Galaxy Quest may have captured the interpersonal side of space travel well, in Stott’s view. But when asked for a movie that depicts space accurately, she put forth Gravity.
“When I watched that film, and saw the way the light was shining on the outside of the space station, or the way Sandra Bullock was floating through the station, I got goosebumps from it,” Stott says.
NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, who spent 143 days in space, also thinks Gravity does a great job of depicting space. During an appearance on Inverse’s upcoming space podcast, he admitted that Gravity captures the feeling of “how disorienting space is.” But Apollo 13, he said, might take the cake, though he did know of one factual error in the film. Linenger recalled a conversation with Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks in the film) where Lovell took issue with one key scene. “They had me cuss in that movie, and I never swear,” Lovell said, according to Linenger.
During the One Strange Rock press event, NASA astronaut Mike Massimino (23 days in space) also said that Apollo 13 was probably the most accurate space movie, but he went on to say that accuracy doesn’t matter. He’s concerned with optics.
“What I only care about is if the astronauts is portrayed as a cool person,” Massimino said in what seemed like a joke at first until he kept going and it became clear that he was, at least, somewhat serious. “They show the astronauts are all in really good shape and that they’re smart. This is good. We don’t have to go to the gym.”
George Clooney was “cool” in Gravity, he explains, but Matthew McConaughey was “a little too nervous” in Interstellar, and Don Knott’s The Reluctant Astronaut “set us back.”
In The Martian, Matt Damon’s character gets impaled by a broken antenna during a dust storm, rips it out, and sews himself up. Compare that to real-life astronauts, says Massimino, illustrating his point with a story about the lunch he bought in a plastic container at Whole Foods the day he saw The Martian.
“I cut my finger taking off this thing. I’m like, ‘Ah! I cut my finger, can I have a band-aid?’ I couldn’t even put the band-aid on,” Massimino said. “But, people don’t know that. People don’t know that I can’t handle a paper cut. They think I can get impaled by an antenna on another planet and figure out a way to heal myself. So, I like it when the astronauts are portrayed as cool.”
You can see Stott, Linenger, Massimino, and five more astronauts in One Strange Rock, hosted by Will Smith and executive produced by Darren Aronofsky and Jane Root of the production company Nutopia. The show premieres on the National Geographic Channel when on March 26 at 10 p.m. Eastern.