A SOUTHAMPTON scientist will tonight find out whether the blockbuster Hollywood movie he has an involvement in wins an Oscar.
The movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts, dramatically brings to life the prospect of a shuttle being wiped out by a collision with space junk whilst in orbit.
But whilst the cast and crew soak up the accolades for the epic piece of cinema on the red carpet, a Southampton researcher now has his own five minutes of fame by appearing in a documentary which features on the Blu-ray release of the film.
Gravity has ten nominations in the Academy Awards which take place in the US tonight.
Dr Hugh Lewis, senior lecturer at the University of Southampton has been studying the growing problem of space junk at the university since 1999 and is an international expert in the field advising on committees for the UN and the UK Space Agency.
His work was brought to the attention of director Alfonso Cuaron who, as part of the research for the film which he also co-wrote, wanted to include more of the science behind the subject of space junk.
Whilst the film was being shot in studios in the UK a crew was tasked to put together a documentary about the subject – which now appears on the film’s Blu-ray DVD.
Hugh, 42, said: “The director wanted there to be some documentary as an extra to put the film into some sort of context and highlight what is being done now about it. They spent a day here filming which was great. I only appear as part of the documentary but it is great to have the work that we do recognised like that.”
The opportunity did not extend to meeting the stars of the film or extend to any premieres of his own, which is fine with Hugh who in fact found the film hard to watch.
“I am scared of heights and of course the 3D version of the film gives such a realistic feeling of actually being in space that I was quite anxious through most of it,” he said.
The story of Gravity sees the astronauts’ desperate bid to get home after their space shuttle is destroyed by orbiting space debris. Although heavily dramatised Hugh says the reality is not that far from fiction.
Although it is not immediately obvious how drifting debris in space could affect our lives, the impact of a collision taking out not just shuttles but satellites and space stations could in fact leave our world paralysed.
Smart phones, instant news, weather forecasts, defence systems and aid work are all now inherently dependent on orbiting satellites so if any of them were to be damaged by space junk the effect could be cataclysmic.
Hugh said: “The use of satellites is now imbedded in our society so anything that threatens that is a very serious problem, and one that we have caused. The problem has been recognised as one of global significance and now our efforts are aimed at trying to do something about it.”