Off Beat: Astronaut connects with local school kids, 'Gravity' star

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock now has something in common with hundreds of Clark County schoolchildren. They've all learned about life in space from Cady Coleman.

Coleman is a veteran astronaut who has spent more than 180 days in space, logging more than 70 million miles in orbit.

Coleman also has family in Clark County. During her visits to the Vancouver area, Coleman has found the time to make appearances in several local schools.

With three different space missions under her belt, Coleman definitely knows her way around, well, Earth's orbit. So when Bullock was preparing for her role as an astronaut in the motion picture "Gravity," she talked with Coleman.

It's an aspect of the film that's gotten a lot of media play in the last couple of weeks — particularly since Coleman was in space at the time. The astronaut was aboard the International Space Station in 2011 when the two women had a telephone conversation.

Coleman told Bullock about the physical aspects of the job — dealing with weightlessness — as well as the psychological impact of not being on the same planet as your family.

In addition to the phone conversation, Coleman created an audio notebook, recording observations that she thought might help Bullock.

It seems to have worked nicely, with "Gravity" setting a box office record for an October release.

While Coleman did her best to accurately reflect life inside a space station, she has some qualms at how a different sort of inside story played out in the film: life inside a space suit.

In one scene, Bullock takes off her space suit to reveal a flattering jogging bra and shorts. In reality, Coleman told Los Angeles Times reporter Rebecca Keen, "astronaut undergarments are 'way not cute,' consisting of one-piece long johns, cooling tubing and a diaper."


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.