The science behind 2001: A Space Odyssey

So I’ve found a great use for this site early-on in the refresh! Came across this great episode of The Incomparable podcast, via John Gruber who I follow.

It reminded me of something I wanted to share a while back. During my undergrad studies, one of my favourite assignments was in Advanced Space Systems, then lectured by Mark Hempsell who followed in the footsteps of Arthur C. Clarke as president of the British Interplanetary Society.

Everyone was given individual topics to research and write about, and mine was along the lines of “how accurate is the science in 2001: A Space Odyssey?”

So here, without amendment from its original format (and there’s much that I’d change from undergraduate-me’s writing) is Habitation Requirements of Humans for Interplanetary Space Flight.

The paper covers quite a lot, fairly briefly, but in short: Clarke did a stellar job of making 2001 scientifically plausible with technology available at the time, and he and Kubrick did similar for the movie.

I remember getting quite into the research for this, from heavily annotating a paperback copy, to timing the rotation rate of the space station in the movie and measuring the size of the windows, to work out its radius from the height of the people inside.

We interviewed Mark and discussed his career, 2001, and his other sci-fi preferences in an episode of The Cosmic Shed earlier this year.