Chinese Cosmonauts Give Their Views on 'Gravity'

3:28 AM PST 03/06/2014 by Patrick Brzeski
"Gravity" won seven Oscars for Warner Bros.

Zhang Bonan, chief designer of the country's spaceship program, says he found the multiple Oscar-winning film "very inspiring" and got some ideas from it.

While American astronauts were quick to assess Gravity's triumphs and inaccuracies during its release last October, their counterparts on the other side of planet Earth have finally weighed in.

Speaking with state news agency Xinhua, several top members of China's space program offered their thoughts on the multiple Oscar-winning film. Their take? An enthusiastic thumbs-up.

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Zhang Bonan, chief designer of China's spaceship program, says he was more than just entertained -- he found the film "very inspiring."

Near Gravity's climax, Sandra Bullock, as astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone, takes refuge in the Chinese space station Tiangong and makes her successful escape to Earth aboard the space ship Shenzhou.

Commenting on those sequences, Zhang said: "The parts in the film about China's space station and spaceship are largely fictional. But I got a few ideas from them."

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After escaping the destroyed NASA space shuttle and arriving at the Chinese space station, Dr. Stone encounters some difficulties entering the vessel from the outside.

Zhang says that the real Chinese space station's current design would make such a move nearly impossible but added, "I think, when improving design in the future, we should think about how to enable a quicker and easier entry into the space station when there is an emergency."

He also said the film has inspired him to reconsider China's preparations for the dangers of a space debris disaster. Gravity's great, explosive conflict comes when debris hits a Russian satellite, causing a chain reaction as the various objects in orbit above Earth break into pieces and smash into each other -- a scenario astrophysicists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson have said is a very real threat.

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"This film not only shows us the beauty of space but also the danger. Manned space programs are highly risky," Zhang added.

Liang Xiaohong, party chief of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told Xinhua that he was awed by Gravity's imagination and creativity.

"In my list, this is the best space film ever," he said.

Ye Peijian, a top scientist with the Chang'e-3 program, the country's lunar probe mission, said he was happy to cheer the success of a film about space exploration.

"A film like this is an efficient and lovely way to introduce complicated space science to ordinary people," he said.

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"I am glad a foreign film portrays China's space program," Zhang added. "It is a good promotion for us.

During Gravity's $70 million run in China last year, some speculated that the favorable portrayal of the Chinese space industry -- a growing source of pride for the Chinese government and public -- might have been a bit of built-in marketing on the part of Warner Bros., designed to guarantee an official release and strong returns in the world's number two movie market.

While promoting the film in China last year, director Alfonso Cuaron dismissed such notions and said he decided to use a Chinese station early on the film's multiyear production process, simply because it was the most realistic option.

"When we were mapping out the story, we had to base it upon elements in space at the time," he told the Chinese press in Beijing. "We had the Hubble Space Telescope, and the International Space Stations, Tiangong and Shenzhou. That's what was in space. And this is way before China became sexy for the Hollywood box office."
 

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