Space Cowboys

Factual error: A couple of times during the film, someone exclaims in horror that if this-or-that system fails, they will have to land the shuttle dead-stick (unpowered; no chance to veer off and try again). Actually, all shuttle landings are dead-stick; they are computer guided but nevertheless are unpowered, one-shot deals.

Factual error: At the end, the russian satelite is aimed straight at the moon. It couldn't have been done that way, and if they did aim at the moon, they would have had to aim to where it would be in 3 days.

Factual error: This line of thinking is repeated twice, once by the NASA scientist and once by the Tommy Lee Jones character: "To get to the moon, you only have to go halfway - gravity will take you the rest of the way". Actually, since Earth's gravity is 6 times greater than the moon's, you would have to go 6/7ths of the way, otherwise you return to Earth.

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Suggested correction: The assertion that 6/7ths of the distance to the moon is the point at which the gravity between the earth and the moon cancel out is basically correct, however, this pertains only to a stationary object at that point (known as Lagrangian 1). However, the momentum of a rocket changes this equation and depending on its speed, it could indeed be the halfway point at which the rocket could "coast" until the Moon started pulling it more strongly than the Earth. No speed is stated so this is no error.


Factual error: The X-2 only had one seat. In fact, I don't believe there were any two-seater "x-planes".

Factual error: In the shuttle landing sims, the pilot is flying, not the commander.

Factual error: In many scenes in space, the stars are shown twinkling or flickering. This occurs only when seen through an atmosphere.

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Suggested correction: Stars also twinkle or flicker due to intervening interstellar gas clouds, so this is no error.


Factual error: At one point, the rotating solar power panels on IKON slam into the Shuttle, wrapping around the nose. That's bad for the astronauts! The tiles all over the Shuttle are used to absorb the tremendous heat of reentry. They are also very brittle. An impact like that would have torn them off by the hundreds, making reentry impossible.

Factual error: The flight director talks directly to the crew several times. In order to avoid a lot of confusing chatter, only CapCom can talk to the crew.

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Suggested correction: Unless, of course, the Flight Director, who is in charge of the entire team, including CAPCOM, decides that he needs to talk directly to the crew.

Factual error: The shuttle re-entry being nose-down could never happen. You had to hit the atmosphere nose-up so the ceramic tiles took the heat.

Factual error: Before launch, Flight reads off the names of positions and then "go". During a shuttle launch, Flight reads off the names and the controller checks in with a go/no go.

Factual error: In the opening scene the x-plane approaches at a very high speed and abruptly makes a very sharp turn to climb straight up. Even with pressure suits this high-speed maneuver would not only kill the pilots but snap the wings off the plane as well. X-planes were carried up to high altitudes before their engines were ever lit up. Flying an x-plane at ground level just was not done.

Factual error: They only have a month to train. In that time they would train for the mission and just let a trained pilot/commander fly. Also, they wouldn't take time out from training to go to CA to be on Leno.

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Suggested correction: The flight training of the geriatric pilots is a critical plot point since they do in fact end up having to pilot the shuttle. As is explained in the movie, NASA decides that the publicity value of the astronauts is more important than the details of the mission. NASA would certainly have made the elderly astronauts available for the Leno show's taping, and probably could have accomplished it in a half day by using NASA executive jets between Houston and Burbank.

Suggested correction: While in space, Ethan tells Frank that his team was nothing but a publicity stunt. A publicity stunt would be sent to Leno. Besides, they all love to fly fast. They would get to CA in no time.

Factual error: The superfortress has a near miss with one of the pilots who has not opened his parachute yet and is therefore still in free fall. As seen from the ground the superfortress would be just a dot in the sky, and the pilot would not yet be visible to the naked eye. Jerry says he saw it happen and he is not even using binoculars - no-one has eyesight that good.

Factual error: When they first go EVA to look at the satellite, Eastwood goes into the Shuttle cargo bay to put on his Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). He goes outside without being tethered at any point. Even when deploying an astronaut in a MMU, the astronaut remained tethered until he was safely mounted into the MMU, then the tether was removed. Upon his return, the astronaut was again tethered before he dismounted the MMU.

Factual error: The Russian says that the missiles in IKON are locked onto American cities. The implication is that those cities will be destroyed if Eastwood screws up. Actually, since the orbit has decayed from geosynchronous (an altitude of roughly 22,000 miles) to low Earth orbit at 1000 miles, I don't think the missile guidance systems would get a chance to work. If the missiles were launched, they would simply shoot down toward the Earth and blow up wherever they happened to be. So, prayers to anyone unlucky enough to be directly below those missles.

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Suggested correction: Entry states an implication. This may have been inferred by this one viewer, but the movie never stated any such thing, so therefore it cannot be considered an error.


Factual error: Several times in the film you see astronauts "suit-up" and head straight out the airlock into space. In reality they would have to pre-breathe pure oxygen for forty minutes to purge the nitrogen from their bloodstreams. If they just went straight out they would suffer from "the bends", as divers do.

Factual error: When the super fortress has a near miss with one of the x-plane pilots the pilot should be in free fall and not appearing to float motionless as the super fortress passes by.

Factual error: After bailing out one of the pilots somehow suspends his free fall and is almost hit by the B29 while motionless in midair.

Factual error: Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland go scooting around in open space (admiring a view of Italy on the sunlit side of the Earth) with their gold solar-screen visors retracted wide open. To avoid accidental instant blindness, real astronauts would never open their solar-screen visors during EVA on the sunlit side of the Earth; yet the astronauts in this film do it constantly, with no ill-effects.

Charles Austin Miller

Visible crew/equipment: You can see reflections of film crew and lighting boards in Clint Eastwood's sunglasses several times during the scenes where he is gathering the old members of team Daedalus.

More mistakes in Space Cowboys

Frank Corvin: You sent us up to this bastard, have us put it back into orbit, fully armed, just to save your own ass?

More quotes from Space Cowboys

Question: What are the chances of four guys of their age ACTUALLY passing the physical to the required standards? I know they all kept reasonably fit but they struggled with running etc. so it seems unlikely they would pass all the tests. I know movie rules dictate suspense of disbelief to a certain degree, I'm just wondering what their chances would be in reality.


Chosen answer: It wasn't a matter of how physically fit they were, but that their particular combination of knowledge, skills, and past experiences were needed for this specific mission. The physical criteria would be amended in order to recruit them for that mission.

raywest Premium member

They were specifically told they wouldn't be given an easier ride and would need to pass the exact same tests as the younger astronauts. The physical criteria wouldn't have been amended to suit them so is it possible for 4 guys of this age to pass?


Remember that at some point in the process it became a political issue - the old cowboys were wanted for their PR value, so physical test results would have been "fudged", if not ignored altogether.


Agree that the physical requirements were a major plot point and part of the 'deal' for the team to go, but there was some relaxing of requirements and politics. In general, the answer is YES, old folks can go to space without major fudging of the requirements as was demonstrated by lots of astronauts in their late 50s, a few in their 60s, and John Genn at 77. Just recently an 82-year-old woman flew on Jeff Bezos' tourist rocket.

Answer: Eastwood would be out on height alone and the rest probably have high blood pressure.

More questions & answers from Space Cowboys

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