|The destruction of the Death Star (Star Wars)|
I love science fiction. Whether it’s books or movies, I love exploring the possibilities of "what if?". And, let’s face it, there are a lot of really cool possibilities when it comes to space travel. Unfortunately, a lot of the really awesome things we see in science fiction movies and even books are less than realistic. That’s not to say you can’t stretch the truth and explore options, but, if you want it to be believable, you need to understand some things about space travel. So, as writers, how do we decipher reality from Hollywood? How do we create fiction that could be realistic and that is an extension of our world without making it overdramatized and fake? We research. So in an effort to put my rocket science to good use and help my fellow writers, here are the top 3 common misconceptions about space travel.
1. People and objects in space experience zero gravity.
In space there’s not exactly zero gravity. Gravity is actually the pull one object has on another. It’s why things fall to the ground when you drop them, because the Earth has a gravitational pull. But when you are in space, you are actually in free fall, which is why it you feel weightless or “in zero gravity”. When you are outside the gravitational pull of another body in space, you will just keep free falling because there is nothing to pull you down. In other words you are falling in an infinite hole because there is no bottom to hit. So while zero gravity is the slang for what space travelers experience, they really are just freeeeee, free falling…
2. There are formal directions in space
In space, up, down, left, right, etc. is all relative. It’s really easy to get disoriented because there is no north or south, forward or backward, it’s just a vast expanse. Without other objects to orient against, it would be hard for someone in space to figure out which way is up. Literally. Because “up” as we know it doesn’t really exist.
This is one reason why the quote “The enemy’s gate is down” from Ender’s Game is so famous. Because in space, “down” is relative to what direction you are facing. Orienting in space isn’t easy. There’s no floor or ceiling, and that’s a difficult thing for the brain to wrap itself around. But by Ender identifying the enemy’s gate as down, this helped him orient within the battle room where they were in a near weightless environment with no frame of reference.
3. Stuff “blows up” in space
I love a good science fiction space battle like the next person. Watching spaceships blow up is really cool. Unfortunately it’s REALLY unrealistic. Again space is a vacuum. There’s no air, which means there’s no oxygen in space. Without oxygen, you can’t have fire. And without fire there can be no explosions. I know… so sad, but so true.