The “science” in Interstellar blew my mind. I’m not a scientist, or work in a field remotely related to science. I’ve seen a lot of “Sci-Fi” though, and for me, what Nolan did in this movie, was mix stuff from some of my favorite shows: Star Trek (interstellar travel), Stargate (wormholes), and Farscape (gravitational slingshot) in a single movie, with that touch of deep realism he accomplishes in such a successful way.
Warning: Heavy Spoilers.
I will now list the shows I’ve seen where you can find elements used in Interstellar.
In relation to Interstellar: Interstellar Travel
Of course! How could we talk about a Sci-Fi flick, and not mention Star Trek? One of the perks of taking a trip on the USS Enterprise – or any other Federation vessel – was (as they called it) the warp speed capability, which would let you travel to any spot in the galaxy in a few days, even hours in some episodes; you would hear captain Kirk say: Warp speed, Mr. Sulu, and that was it. So, with the technology Star Trek presents, interstellar travel is a walk on the park for humanity.
The problem with our current technology, is that it takes a LOT of time to reach any destination. It’d take 260 days just to reach Mars, which is a neighboring planet. It takes Coop and his crew three months to get to saturn, which is only three planets away.
The closest solution for that problem, is Suspended Animation (AKA in Sci-Fi: Hibernation, Hypersleep, Cryosleep, Cold Sleep, etc.), which is the slowing or stopping of life processes by exogenous or endogenous means without termination. In other words, a kind of induced sleep that slows the aging process of your body for the amount of time required to reach the destination. That way, you wouldn’t go crazy for spending 3 months in a tin can. One of the problems with Suspended Animation, as shown on Interstellar, is that time keeps passing for everyone and everything else. Here’s the video of how our favorite astronauts go into Suspended Animation.
Sadly, you still take a lot of time to reach any place on Suspended Animation, so, until we discover a way into Faster That Light Travel (FTL), which is the propagation of information or matter faster than the speed of light, we cannot effectively boldly go where no man has gone before.
In relation to Interstellar: Wormholes
Stargate: SG1 it’s all about that wormhole! Based on the movie starred by James Spader and Kurt Russell, Captain Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson, are set to explore the galaxy, traveling by these “Stargates” built by an ancient race of extraterrestrial beings. These gates connect each other through wormholes, creating a huge network of planets. The explorers, only have to dial a code onto the gate, and voila! there’s your portal to another planet.
What a Wormhole -also called an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, as referred in Marvel’s Thor movies- does, is connect two points in space, letting you travel between the two (theoretically in one direction only), without crossing the actual distance that separates them. In other words, a shortcut.
What Interstellar did (that I had not seen before, and please keep in mind I have not seen every fictional movie or T.V. show), was showing the entrances to the wormhole as spheres (three dimensions) instead of circles (two dimensions). Here it is:
You can see the use of wormholes in a lot of movies and tv shows, like Star Wars, Dr. Who, Babylon 5, Farscape and even some of Marvel flicks, but Stargate: SG1 gets deeper into it, and really plays with the implications of traveling by these.
In relation to Interstellar: Gravitational Slingshot
This show tells the story of John Crichton, an astronaut who designed an aircraft named Farscape, a vessel specialized for performing gravitational slingshots. On the first episode, while testing his aircraft, he gets propelled through a wormhole that leads to a distant part of the galaxy. The adventure begins.
In orbital mechanics and aerospace engineering, a gravitational slingshot, gravity assist maneuver, or swing-by is the use of the relative movement (e.g. orbit around the Sun) and gravity of a planet or other astronomical object to alter the path and speed of a spacecraft, typically in order to save propellant, time, and expense. Gravity assistance can be used to accelerate a spacecraft, that is, to increase or decrease its speed and/or redirect its path.
Basically, what you do when performing a gravitational slingshot, is take advantage of the gravity pull and the orbiting velocity of the object you are orbiting around. That way, you increase your speed (or decrease it, depending on what side of the object you approach from) to save time and fuel, two very precious elements when traveling in space. Here’s how it happens in Interstellar…
WARNING: HEAVY SPOILER
I made the following example based on this one.
This example is a VERY simplified version of whats really happening, there are much more factors at play. Keeping that in mind, let me explain the formula…
In the example, “v” is your current speed, and “U” is the orbital speed of the object. So lets say, you enter the orbit of jupiter at 200MPH, and the orbital speed of said planet is 100MPH, you’re gonna leave that orbit at 400MPH without accelerating. That way you’re saving fuel, and traveling twice as fast, therefore, saving time as well. Of course, you also need to spend fuel to at least avoid getting pulled into the object (as shown on Interstellar) by its gravity, but it’s a worthy effort, considering the benefits you’re gaining for doing it.
Bonus: The Time Tunnel
In relation to Interstellar: Time Travel
WARNING: MOTHER OF SPOILERS
Although I didn’t watch The Time Tunnel, I remember watching some episodes with my parents when I was a kid. Dr. Douglas Phillips, Dr. Anthony Newman and Lt. General Heywood Kirk were the directors of Project Tic-Toc; a top secret U.S. government effort to build an experimental time machine, known as “The Time Tunnel”. They traveled in time through a cylindrical time machine and participated in events such as the sinking of the Titanic, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the eruption of Krakatoa, Custer’s Last Stand, and the Battle of the Alamo among others.
In Interstellar, it works a bit different than traveling to a certain point in space and time. Instead, Coop enters the Tesseract, which is the “machine” that lets the advanced beings that are helping us, open the wormhole to our salvation, and furthermore, lets Coop become Murph’s ghost and -through gravity- record the quantum data required to solve the gravity equation in his watch, which allows Cooper Station to lift off.
If you think about it, Coop don’t actually travel to Murph’s room, he just is able to watch it and manipulate gravity in it, through the Tesseract’s capability of letting him perceive the time dimension as non-linnear. This, as I understand, is a very theory-consistent way to contemplate time travel.
Here’s part of the Tesseract scene. LAST WARNING: HEAVY SPOILER.
And here’s Neil Degrasse Tyson awesomely explaining it, as always:
And that’s it folks! Did I miss something obvious? Please leave your comments bellow. And if you haven’t watched Interstellar, go get it.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.