In the movie Contact, the billionaire owner of Hadden industries lives on an airplane that is almost always airborne. He later moves to the Russian space station, Mir, saying the low gravity and low oxygen environment is the only thing keeping his cancer from eating him alive.

  • Why would Hadden expect to live longer if he was on airplane all the time?
  • Why would he expect to live longer if he was on a space station?

According to the XKCD radiation chart, a person traveling by plane from New York to Los Angeles can expect to get 40 micro-sieverts of radiation. Multiply that by 4 * 365 to estimate the radiation incurred by somebody who lives aloft all the time. That's 58.4 millisieverts which is more than the annual maximum radiation exposure (50 millisieverts) allowed for people who work near reactors. When he blasts off to live on Mir, his radiation exposure should be even higher. Hadden should be smart enough to live underground, not on an airplane.

  • Why wouldn't you?!? ✈️ 😎 Jun 28, 2021 at 12:20

2 Answers 2


Microgravity may reduce tumor development

According to research done through NASA,

The secretion of cytokines was down-regulated in space. The inducers of tumor neoangiogenesis OPN, IL-6, IL-8, and VEGF-a were all reduced under real microgravity. Several gravisensitive signaling elements, such as protein kinases A and C as well as integrins, are involved in the reaction of thyroid cancer cells to microgravity.

On the other, low oxygen levels are probably good for tumor development

In any case, if Hadden wanted to have low oxygen levels, he would hardly need to get into a plane to do so. Microgravity seems the only likely explanation.

Radiation is not relevant for the plane

Hadden probably had radiation shielding built into his plane, so that in the end he was received less radiation than at ground level. He was, after all, very rich.

Nor really for the Space Station

Hadden only went to the Space station shortly before he was going to die. At this time scale, radiation would not have time to induce more cancer. While it might weaken his immune system by killing healthy cells, on the other hand it might also kill cancerous cells. In any case, he had little time to live and wished to see space.


The decision to live on an airplane was not due to health benefits. He believed he would live longer on an airplane because there were world governments and people that wanted to kill/imprison him. Or at least he believed that to be the case. He has made enough enemies that residing in a known location could lead to him becoming metabolically challenged, incarcerated, or just plain bothered by people seeking to contact him.

As to the space station,he did believe it was healthier for him due to microgravity, or at least that is what he said his reasons were. I have a suspicion that a big part of it was also he just really wanted to go to space and had the means to do so so went for it.

  • 2
    "He has made enough enemies that residing in a known location could lead to ..." Ah, but by living on an airplane, he's easy to find and shoot down. Not a safe place for man with a thousand enemies. He's better off living in an underground lair.
    – RichS
    Apr 13, 2016 at 4:56

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