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Lost in space? NASA has a plan

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

You've probably seen trailers for "Gravity," an action film set in space. It debuts at local theaters next Friday.

What you haven't seen - until now - is NASA's real-life plan to rescue wayward astronauts.

In one scene, early in the movie, astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) tumbles helplessly away from the International Space Station: "I am off structure and I am drifting. Do you copy?" she cries.

"A crewmember floating away is extremely unlikely," said Brian Alpert with NASA's EVA Operations.

It's a low-probability event, but NASA has already played out a similar scenario for astronauts-in-training at its Virtual Reality Lab, tucked away inside Houston's Johnson Space Center.

Here, spacewalks are simulated using 3D animation as astronauts rehearse every EVA in painstaking detail before carrying it out - for real - 230 miles above earth.

"What we do here is we train our crewmembers to be prepared for any of these situations that might come up," said Alpert. "So that when the time comes that they're put into one of these situations, it's not as scary. It's familiar."

If a spacewalk goes south and the tethers fail - as imagined in "Gravity" - an astronaut's safety might depend on SAFER: Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue. It's a self-contained jet-pack worn by all NASA spacewalkers.

"With a hand control module, they'd be able to use the thrusters on the SAFER to direct themselves back to the space station," Alpert explained.

He's not yet sure whether he'll go see "Gravity" on the big screen. After all, Brian Alpert already has a front row seat to the most action-packed astronaut adventures.

"To see them succeed in space when it really matters is definitely the most gratifying part of my job."

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