For any spacecraft which travels through the Earth's atmosphere, there's a critical thing which needs to be considered beforehand. Space travel is ''fast'', and hitting the atmosphere at the kind of speed you'd have in orbit will make your spacecraft ''hot.'' Very hot [[note]]though despite the trope name, this is not primarily due to friction, but to ram pressure: the compression of air in front of the spacecraft as the spacecraft plows through[[/note]]. If you attempt to plow through the air without sufficient shielding, disaster could (and indeed, horrifically, [[ did at one point]]) occur.

It's fairly common for fiction to ignore this little inconvenient fact, because it means characters and impractically designed spaceships can get onto (or off) a planet without burning up. It simply doesn't include an atmosphere. In some cases, AppliedPhlebotinum is used, or the ship simply slows down before reentry to avoid burning up. The later isn't necessarily too unrealistic for a ship which is using nuclear engines, or otherwise doesn't need to worry about fuel (or balancing fuel consumption with arrival time). If you have enough energy, cooling and propellant (the latter two are still needed until the air itself becomes dense enough to be useful), you can move as slowly as you want, but "enough" here is ''really big''. The issue for all current orbital spacecraft is that they need to use most of their fuel to lift fuel (not crew or payload) to the altitude where it will be burned, and a ship that used its engines to slow down would be much more expensive since it'd have to carry '''even more''' fuel.

Note this trope does not generally apply to anything with AntiGravity or similar propulsion systems as such craft would be able to hover over a planet instead of needing to orbit a planet. Orbital rings, shells, elevator or anything else in geo-stationary orbit are also generally exempt as there is no need for them to move at hyper velocities to avoid crashing back down onto the planet. Craft that are in the process of taking off may or may not be exempt if they have not yet accelerated to orbital velocities or if they do not gain any horizontal velocity to escape a planet's orbit.

Contrast FrictionBurn, which is the opposite of this trope, and ReentryScare. Compare SoftWater, a similar problem with using water as an all-purpose safety net. See also SpaceshipSlingshotStunt.



* Averted in ''Anime/MobileSuitGundam,'' given the RealRobot setting of the series. In the first case, Zeon forces don't actually expect the Gundam to be able to make it through reentry...because their own Zakus ''can't'', which is demonstrated by the unlucky pilot Crown and his Zaku melting and shedding parts when he can't make it back to the Musai. The Gundam surprises the Zeon forces by deploying a 'heatproof film' and surviving to make landfall.
** ''Anime/MobileSuitZetaGundam'' also does this to another minor named pilot as a point of character development for [[TheRival Jerid Messa]]. His friend, Kacricon, had attempted to defeat the Gundam MKII by using Earth's field gravity to his advantage. [[HoistByHisOwnPetard That didn't go over so well]], and with its heat shield is destroyed, his Marasai burned up in the atmosphere.
** In ''Manga/MobileSuitCrossboneGundam'', Kincaid manages to survive reentry using a beam shield rather than a physical one, which nobody was sure was even possible. He is still an inch from death afterward and needs immediate medical attention.
** [[Anime/MobileSuitGundamSEED Kira Yamato]] is forced to try to re-enter in the Aile Strike as he deployed to defend the Archangel and shuttles shortly before their re-entry. His shield melts up before the Archangel (which deploys a similar heatproof film as the White Base) maneuvers to catch it atop one of its legs. This saves Kira from the worst of it, but he's still cooked inside the Strike and suffers for it once they make planet-side. It's made quite clear he would never have survived if he wasn't a genetically-engineered superhuman.
** In ''MobileSuitGundamSEEDAstray'', Lowe and the Red Frame ends up facing this problem when a fight with the Gold Frame sends him hurtling into the gravity well of Earth. His Junk Guild buddies, however, use their ship and the massive amount of junk they gathered as a shield to grab Lowe and ride it out to Earth. They wreck their ship in the process, though.
* The {{Macross}} franchise does deal with the friction of re-entry on occasion.
** Hikaru's VF-1 get's quite hot and beat-up during its re-entry during the climactic battle.
** While it does generate a lot of heat the YF-19 shows just how far craft have come in {{Macross Plus}} since it not only makes a safe re-entry but it does so completely unpowered and spinning uncontrollably while trying to avoid the orbital defence satellites.
** Also comes up in the final battle of MacrossFrontier [[TheMovie Sayonara no Tsubasa]] when its commented that the Macross Quarter will burn up if they enter the atmosphere at full speed. So they make sure to get behind a large piece of debris to use as a heat shield. [[CrazyAwesome Then they proceed to]] ''[[SkySurfing sky surf it]].''

* ''Film/FlightOfTheNavigator'': The ship flies up to the edge of the atmosphere and back down again at multi-Mach speed with no heat or friction effects. Justified because of its advanced technology.
* ''Film/{{Aliens}}''. The dropship's entry into the atmosphere of LV-426 apparently causes no heat buildup at all.
* Averted in two instances in the ''StarWars'' films:
** ''RevengeOfTheSith'' has the "not to worry, we are still flying ''half'' the ship" incident, wherein they even have firefighting ships swoop in alongside to put out the fires of reentry before Anakin [[ComingInHot crash-lands]].
** In ''TheEmpireStrikesBack'', the probe droid sent to Hoth becomes a meteorite.
*** This may be an InvokedTrope (or a case of FridgeBrilliance at least), since [[StarWarsExpandedUniverse EU]] materials seem to indicate ships normally don't glow on reentry. The logic would be "ships don't glow" → "object glows" → "object is not a ship".
** See also the StarWarsExpandedUniverse examples below.
* Averted in ''Film/{{Serenity}}''. The start of the movie shows the titular ship beginning its reentry, including a brief scare for the crew when an apparently important part randomly breaks off [[TheAllegedCar The Alleged Starship]].
-->'''Wash:''' Re-entry is about to get interesting.
-->'''Mal:''' Define "interesting."
-->'''Wash:''' (deadpan) 'Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die!'
* Inverted (and thus, still wrong) in the first ''AustinPowers'' film: Dr Evil's Big Boy rocket begins to reheat the instant it starts to head downwards from orbit.

* Averted in ''TheNightsDawnTrilogy'' by Creator/PeterFHamilton. During an orbital engagement, one of the mercenary starships grazes the atmosphere to destroy the missiles chasing it, as they're designed for deep space (the starship was also designed for space, but was spherical). Even with being relatively aerodynamic, having internal strengthening forcefields, and only using the upper atmosphere, the ship was nearly destroyed.
* Franchise/StarWarsExpandedUniverse:
** In ''[[ComicBook/XWingSeries X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar]]'', it's noted that an X-Wing's shields protect it from reentry. Thus, Wedge can maintain a higher speed on his entry to Adumar's atmosphere than the unshielded Blades escorting him can.
** During the very first X-Wing book, Corron actually uses a planet's atmosphere to damage a TIE fighter by luring it close enough to the planet during a dogfight to cause reentry heat to begin building up.
** Other parts of the SWEU, including some books in the same series, use the friction of atmospheric reentry in various ways. Attaching extra hulls to burn up during the descent lets a squadron of X-Wings disguise itself as part of a meteorite shower, letting them infiltrate a hostile world. In the NewJediOrder, the Wraiths have developed single-person reentry pods with ablation shielding for basically the same purpose.
** ''In Han Solo at Star's End'', the Millennium Falcon uses its shields to offset the heat of entering the atmosphere of Duroon.
** An aversion in ''[[Literature/BlackFleetCrisis Before the Storm]]'' leads to a RedShirt moment. During a military exercise a fleet tender drops out of hyperspace too late to decelerate and is lost with all hands when it hits a planet's atmosphere.
** The Corellia trilogy sees a New Republic Intel agent crashing her ship on Corellia, noting as she does so that most ships are designed to survive the heat of a ballistic re-entry - but only once. They're intended to have functional engines to slow them down before they hit the atmosphere.
* Averted in ''Literature/UseOfWeapons''. When a Culture module wants to make a swift getaway from a planet's surface, it displaces ([[TeleportersAndTransporters teleports]]) away the air in front of it to behind it as fast as it's moving. It thus makes a multi-mach trip to orbit through a nice, frictionless, self-created vacuum. Of course, Literature/TheCulture are SufficientlyAdvancedAliens.
* Averted in ''Literature/{{Animorphs}}''. The prologue to ''The Alien'' shows how Ax wound up on Earth, including an automated reentry by the dome of the Dome Ship ''[=GalaxyTree=]'' complete with glow from ram pressure. Meanwhile ''The Andalite Chronicles'' includes a hypersonic chase through the atmosphere of the Taxxon homeworld, with the ships involved becoming basically self-propelled meteors. Late in the chase, a Bug fighter randomly explodes in midair because its shields failed.
* Averted in ''Literature/StarshipTroopers''. The drop pods for infantry have several layers, the first few of which are meant to deal with the friction of being dropped into atmosphere. Johnny is well aware of what could happen if they fail.
* An inversion happens in ''Literature/InvasionOfKzarch''; where the marine platoon preforms a hot drop even though they could've come in slow. The thing is, they needed to avoid getting shot at, so...

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Averted in ''Series/DenjiSentaiMegaranger'' and ''Series/PowerRangersInSpace'' for RuleOfCool. The CoolStarship does its TransformationSequence into the Megazord in space, then heads down planetside to fight the MonsterOfTheWeek. The friction of reentry only means that the Megazord heads into battle wielding a [[IncendiaryExponent flaming shield]].
* Averted in the ''Series/DoctorWho'' story [[Recap/DoctorWho2007CSVoyageOfTheDamned "Voyage of the Damned"]]: [[spoiler:The ''[[SpaceSailing Titanic]]'' is glowing when crashing to Earth; however, this is no longer visible when it nearly (or in [[Recap/DoctorWhoS30E11TurnLeft "Turn Left"]], actually) hits Buckingham Palace. The Doctor even uses the friction of re-entry to reignite the ''Titanic'''s engines.]]
* If reentry is actually shown in the Franchise/StargateVerse, the trope is usually averted. This is used to the heroes' advantage in the ''Series/StargateSG1'' episodes "Nemesis" and "Enemies", when they scuttle the Asgard vessel overrun with Replicators by disabling the shields and performing an uncontrolled re-entry.
** It's used to their disadvantage in ''Last Stand'', where the enemy tracks Jacob & Daniel's cloaked ship by the heat of its reentry.
* In ''Series/StargateAtlantis'', the episode "Lifeline" has [=McKay=] explains that even with the ZPM powering the shields, too steep a descent during atmospheric re-entry could overtax it and cause the shield to fail, while even with it in place, the incredible turbulence could cause the city to break into a million pieces long before it crashes into the surface.
* Averted in ''Series/BattlestarGalacticaReimagined'', where we get to see [[spoiler: The Galactica]] dropping through the atmosphere like a giant superheated rock in one episode as part of an AirstrikeImpossible.
** More on an inversion - Galactica wasn't moving anywhere near fast enough for reentry friction, and Vipers were able to leave Galactica without themselves experiencing reentry friction.
* Generally averted in ''{{Series/Firefly}}''. Entering the atmosphere is described as a fairly rough and sometimes dangerous act for the ''Serenity'', though the latter is more due to her [[TheAllegedCar state of disrepair]] than the actual heat of reentry. Wash's talent for piloting and Kaylee's talent for [[WrenchWench rapidly jury-rigging repairs]] for failing systems are able to compensate for Mal's lack of talent for making enough money to properly maintain his ship.
** In the pilot, we see a Reaver ship maneuvering to present its presumably better-shielded side to atmo, and the ship being surrounded by white-hot plasma. {{ShownTheirWork}}, indeed.
* Averted on ''Series/BabylonFive'', particularly in the season 3 finale, [[spoiler: when Sheridan commanded the White Star to dive out of orbit into the Shadow capital and detonate two 500 megaton warheads.]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* You wouldn't normally expect scientific accuracy from ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'', but Space Marine DropPods do have to have heat shielding and stabilizer systems to survive reentry.
** Although played straight with most of the other vehicles, which look about as aerodynamic and shielded as a block of candyfloss and which somehow manage to be SSTO spaceplanes and floating cathedrals. Semi-justified given the advanced materials used in their construction, and because there seems to be one school of thought in Imperial engineering and that thought is "Thrussssssssssssssst!!!".
*** To be fair, all these flying cathedrals were never intended to actually enter atmosphere. They have shuttles and drop pods for that.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* A stock ending for ''SonicTheHedgehog'' games is for Sonic to fall to the planet after blowing up a space station. ''Sonic 2'' shows Sonic actually fly to space on the outside of a ship. ''Sonic Adventure 2'' partly corrects the astronomy by making it possible for characters to die if they hit the atmosphere (Eggman even uses it in an attempt to [[spoiler:eliminate Sonic]]). However, the atmosphere's height varies according to how high the platforms above it are.
** Not really. All that changes is how long until your character appears to enter the atmosphere- and it has to do with how many platforms are below you, in order to give you a chance to return to a lower part of the stage.
* Averted in ''VideoGame/MassEffect2'', in which Shepard is quite badly ''killed'' by reentry by him/herself in a space suit[[note]]Subsequent video footage of the Lazarus project shows that Shepard had broken every single bone in multiple places, and suffered massive organ failure due to, well, death. Interestingly, the hard part of resurrecting Shepard isn't fixing the physical damage, but rather cataloguing the mental damage and finding a way to reverse it without significant alterations[[/note]]. Of course, the space suit ensured s/he was intact enough to be rebuilt...
* ''VideoGame/SuperMarioGalaxy'', obviously.
** Amusingly averted in ''[[VideoGame/MarioKart Mario Kart Wii]]'', where falling off Rainbow Road will result in your character lighting up as they plummet towards the earth, and they'll be smoking when Lakitu returns them to the track.
* Most of the ''Franchise/{{Kirby}}'' games are like this.
* Averted in ''VideoGame/{{Freelancer}}''. Planets have docking rings to guide them safely to the surface and any ship attempting direct entry to a planet will flare up and eventually be destroyed. Of course, it is also an example of GameplayAndStoryIntegration.
** Humorously, sometimes AI controlled ships [[ArtificialStupidity will be poorly scripted to fly too close to the planet]], causing them to burn up.
* Zig-Zagged in ''VideoGame/StarTrekBridgeCommander''. Moving too close to a planet will cause an orange, fiery halo to appear around your shields - even if your shields are down - until you splat into the planet. No matter how fast you're travelling, though, you'll never burn up or suffer damage unless you actually hit the planet. Given that planets in this sector are about 200km in diameter, they don't have very thick atmospheres.
* Averted in ''VideoGame/StarTrekKlingonAcademy''. Although flying slowly through a planet's atmosphere provides good camouflage, plowing ahead in your ''Bird of Prey'' at high impulse without shields is an excellent way to become a meteor and fail your mission.
* ''Franchise/{{Halo}}'' averts it. {{Drop Pod}}s and {{escape pod}}s burn up on re-entry as one would expect, while Pelicans don't reenter fast enough to start heating up.
* ''[[VideoGame/{{Elite}} Frontier: First Encounters]]'' got it averted, in that a manual landing requires to keep an eye on approach velocity and either your ship has Atmospheric Shielding installed (and it's tough enough to work as armor) or the next reentry will end rather [[StuffBlowingUp prematurely and spectacularly]].
* Averted in the ''[[VideoGame/{{X}} X-Universe]]'' series. Any planets shown aren't backdrops, but actual physical objects with atmospheres, and you can reach them in a ship provided they're not on the opposite side of the InvisibleWall surrounding the sector. (It usually takes forever, though.) Like ''Freelancer'' above, objects in the ''X'' series aren't designed for atmospheric flight and will burn up. The planet in the sector Split Fire in ''X3: Terran Conflict'' has gotten notoriety for this, since its atmosphere starts about a kilometer behind one of the jumpgates, which is normally prime real estate for player-owned factories.
* As of version 0.24, ''VideoGame/KerbalSpaceProgram'' does not have re-entry ''heating'', but otherwise averts this trope: graphical effects are present, and an atmosphere can be used to perform aerobraking. In fact, being able to benefit from re-entry without worrying about heat could be considered a bit of a GameBreaker compared to real world re-entry because you can plunge a spacecraft deep into the atmosphere of Jool [[note]]Think "green Jupiter"[[/note]] and use it to bring your ship into an orbit instead of escaping Jool back into the solar system.
** Of course, there is a GameMod for that if you're more interested in realism.
* Averted in ''VideoGame/AsurasWrath''. The main characters first death was by atmoshperic reentry. It happens to him again later but survives this time.
* Surprisingly, ''{{VideoGame/Orbiter}}'' plays this halfway straight, despite being very realistic in most respects. There's friction on reentry (enough to bounce you back out of the atmosphere if you enter at the wrong angle) and a visual effect to show heating, but it's impossible to destroy a ship this way. A few modded vehicles avert this trope.
* Averted in ''VideoGame/XenoSaga''. At the end of Disc 1, the protagonists enters the atmosphere of a planet on what is essentially a glorified cruise liner. It takes the hidden powers of two of the cast to successfully protect the ship from the heat of reentry. Arguably played with, as some dialogue indicates the ship may have been fine had it entered the atmosphere under more orderly circumstances.

* Averted in ''{{Webcomic/Starslip}}'' when a recurring antagonist gets blown out an airlock by Vanderbeam, who was sick of the antagonist's recurrences: [[]]
* Averted and discussed in ''{{Webcomic/Freefall}}''.
* Most HSD spaceships in ''RankAmateur'' are designed to be aerodynamic so they can aerobrake without getting damaged. Human/Earth Authority ships are either designed either with landing capability or to never enter atmospheres. The latter type would burn up on atmospheric entry.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/{{Futurama}}'', unusually for a comedy series, pays attention to the heat issue: When Bender the robot falls to Earth from space, he's hot enough to instantly melt snow several meters away. (His heat resistance was justified in a later episode - for whatever reason, his designers used a dolomite alloy with very high temperature tolerances.)
* The less said about the Professor's wooden spaceship that takes the Castaways to ''Gilligan's Planet'' the better.
* Averted in the [[PixarShorts ''Cars Toon'']] "Moon Mater", which is about [[WesternAnimation/{{Cars}} Mater]] becoming a moon rover as part of a moon mission to rescue an "autonaut" named [[PunnyName Impala XIII]], who was trapped inside a crater on the Moon. On the way back to Earth, Mater (while narrating) actually adds his friend Lightning [=McQueen=] into his story, since [=McQueen=] thinks that Mater is making things up. Lightning [=McQueen=] is portrayed here as a reentry probe, and as he is heading back toward Earth, his body starts to heat up rapidly because of friction, and as a result he start screaming "Ow! Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot!" before finally landing in the ocean and sighing in relief.