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Shelburne astronaut coaches ‘Gravity’ star

Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut in the space thriller coming out Friday

Submitted photo
Actress Sandra Bullock and astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman meet. Coleman shared information about being in outer space to help Bullock prepare for her role as an astronaut in “Gravity.”

Submitted photo Actress Sandra Bullock and astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman meet. Coleman shared information about being in outer space to help Bullock prepare for her role as an astronaut in “Gravity.”

SHELBURNE — If anyone could know how Sandra Bullock’s “Gravity” character might feel careening through outer space, gasping for air after floating debris hits her spacecraft — it might be Catherine “Cady” Coleman, who spent 159 days aboard the International Space Station, 225 miles from Earth, in 2011.

While in outer space, Coleman traveled 63 million miles, conducted 150 physics experiments, played flute with famous musicians on Earth — and helped Bullock prepare for her upcoming role as astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone in “Gravity.”

The Toronto Film festival reviews have given Bullock critical acclaim, and the movie, also starring George Clooney, will be released for general audiences on Friday.

The movie trailer, which is online, shows how Bullock’s astronaut reacts when she is forced to detach herself from the wreckage of the vessel during a spacewalk.

“It’s sensational,” said Coleman, who’s seen both the trailer and the movie.

“It’s about a very bad day in space.”

She adds: “I don’t know anybody that’s had a day in space like that. On the other hand, the dangers they show are real. We think ahead about how to exist in that environment and how to come home safely.”

Coleman said advising Bullock for the astronaut role came about because of a chance meeting between Coleman’s brother and Bullock’s brother-in-law. Coleman was already aboard the Space Station and had just watched another Bullock movie the night before getting an email that the actress wanted to talk to her about how to play an astronaut.

“We talked a few times (on an Internet-based phone), and she gave me a feeling for what she wanted to know,” said Coleman. “I think being up there really helped to understand what it’s like.”

“One thing I told her really surprised her and affected how they shot a scene: I told her, if you wanted to move yourself across the space station — I could take one hair on my head and I could push that hair against something, and I would move myself across the station. If I did it fast, it would break the hair. But if I did it slowly, I could move myself.”

“That gave them a better feeling for what it felt like to move up there,” said Coleman.

Coleman said she spent a couple of days in Beverly Hills with Bullock and the press, talking about the movie, before going back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to work with the crew of Cygnus, the commercial cargo spacecraft sent to the International Space Station this month.

Good for girls

When asked if Dr. Ryan survives the accident, Coleman said, “I’m not allowed to tell you, but I’m allowed to tell you I think it will be a very good movie. It’s a very impressive movie. For NASA, it’s very exciting. It still shows the power of people persevering. I think it’s an especially good film for girls. They need models of strong, courageous women who may not always know what to do, but who can figure it out. I liked it, in that respect.”

The emotional plot of the movie also rang true for Coleman, who is often separated from her family in Shelburne when she is working for NASA, often in Texas when not in space.

“I have the privilege of being someone who trained to do this work, and I have to keep my head when I’m working,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean I’m not sad that I can’t spend more time with my family.”

The first time that Coleman saw the film, “The Right Stuff,” was the night before her interview to become an astronaut. Later, “I watched ‘Apollo 13’ before I went on a mission,” she said.

Recently, Coleman’s job at NASA was to train the ground crew guiding the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft, which is to deliver 1,300 pounds of cargo, food and clothing to the International Space Station.

The first-ever commercial spacecraft was launched last Wednesday, but its arrival at the International Space Station was postponed because of a software glitch.

Coleman said earlier there was a concern that the craft would collide with some space debris in its orbit.

“We won’t let it stay on that path,” said Coleman. “There’s been a lot of meetings about the best way to do that,” she explained. “There’s very complicated mathematics involved. We look at every aspect.”

“It’s interesting, to me,” she said as she pondered the Cygnus concerns and the pending release of Bullock’s film, “to have art imitate life — and then life imitate art,” she said.

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