Cas Anvar Talks About the Science Behind the Flip and Burn, CQBs, and 'The Expanse'

Saturday, 02 September 2017 - 9:40PM
The Expanse
Convention News
Saturday, 02 September 2017 - 9:40PM
Cas Anvar Talks About the Science Behind the Flip and Burn, CQBs, and 'The Expanse'
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Image credit: Syfy Channel
When celebrities make red carpet appearances, they wear Rolex watches or designer dresses. When Cas Anvar walked onto the stage at this year's Escape Velocity, he was wearing a leather blade gauntlet from Assassin's Creed. By his own admission, he's a nerd first and foremost: "I'm a huge geek…I was going to be a chemical engineer before I became an actor."

What was even cooler was listening to Anvar talk about the science behind The Expanse, the hit sci-fi show from the SyFy Channel, from the use of gravity in action scenes to the physics behind the famous "flip and burn" maneuver. Here are some of the highlights from the talk.

Skyscrapers With Engines Strapped to Them

As opposed to the sleek designs of ships like the Enterprise from Star Trek or the Normandy from Mass Effect, Anvar compares some of the ships in The Expanse to "skyscrapers with engines strapped to them." When asked whether the controls for the spaceships were realistic, Anvar admitted to being disappointed that the Roci didn't have a joystick, like a fighter jet.

With the airing of the clip showing Solomon Epstein's first use of his eponymous engine, however, it makes sense that Anvar's character is limited to a touch screen and some dials: when a spaceship is accelerating fast enough to exert 10-20 G's, a pilot's arms (which normally weigh about two pounds) are going to suddenly weigh 20-40 pounds. With that in mind, finger controls take the least amount of effort.

Anvar also notes that he splits the functions of the ship between his hands-his touchpad controls the weapons and "juice," the latter of which is made of anticoagulants, blood thinners, and stimulants to keep him from blacking out during high-G maneuvers. His other hand controls the ship's flight, which has to take place in three dimensions.

The Flip and Burn

The "flip and burn" is one of the show's most iconic pieces of sci-fi, and hammers home its commitment to realism. For those who aren't familiar, a "flip and burn" is when a ship flips around in space and fires its engines so that it begins moving in the opposite direction.

Despite being relatively simple, it's an incredibly stressful maneuver-the ship first needs to cancel its current momentum, which takes an incredible amount of force.
"You can't hit the brakes and stop," Anvar jokes. 
Instead, the ship has to go full throttle in the opposite direction, meaning all the people onboard (whose bodies are currently travelling really fast) are going to experience huge G-forces. Here's a flip and burn in action:

Add this kind of move to a space battle, and you've got a deadly mix. Anvar describes the armaments of the ships in the show as electromagnetic railguns, which fire a "metal projectile the size of a mango" that "will vaporize your hull and shoot through the other side." Here's an example of what he's talking about:

A Vision of the Future

What struck me as I listened to Anvar talk about the show was how passionate he seemed about the ideas behind it, rather than the spectacle.

"It's the only science fiction show where science is made into a character," he said. "It's an extremely real-world, extremely hostile [show]…It's a look at what we're going to be dealing with in the future—as human technology grows, our foibles and flaws grow with [it]."

When asked by Greg Viggiano, the Executive Director of The Museum of Science Fiction and the director of Escape Velocity, whether the show is a reasonable depiction of a point 200-300 years in the future, Anvar said "I think it's pushing it, but it's not unreasonable."

In Viggiano's follow-up question, he asked Anvar whether he thought human society will change significantly by the year 2200, when we've begun exploring (and colonizing) the stars. Anvar's response was simple:  "Have you ever read Macbeth?"

According to Anvar, the famous Shakespeare play is as relevant today as it was when it was performed centuries ago: "We don't change," Anvar said. "We're trying, but we don't change. Our technology, our systems change, but humanity is stuck in a loop…Unless there's a major spiritual enlightenment…or an alien invasion that unites us, I think we're doomed to repeat ourselves."
Stay tuned for more coverage from Escape Velocity 2017!
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