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Accidental Astronaut

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Man, what a world of difference a single simple misunderstanding can make.

A plot involving a character entering a spacecraft and unintentionally being launched into space. This can come in either one of two ways.

The first method involves a character entering a parked spacecraft and messing with the controls out of curiosity or stupidity, causing the spacecraft to launch into space with them in it. This could be from the character thinking the spacecraft is merely a simulation, or even unaware that it's a spacecraft at all. Either way, once they're inside and press something that sets off the launch sequence, they have no recourse to correct their mistake since they have little-to-no experience with piloting spacecraft.

The second method involves an officially endorsed launch that's on schedule but, for whatever reason, whether be it an accidental mix-up of unauthorized crew or a character is a stowaway who snuck on board the spacecraft, the launch proceeds as planned with the character hitching an unintended ride into the cosmos. Sometimes this will involve the Mission Control team noticing this mistake at the last second and either failing to or are unable to abort the launch in time to save them.

Either way, this results in the character being forced into a dilemma they can't easily escape from. It may involve a rescue mission of sorts where a rescue team frantically scrambles to find or pursue the spacecraft to save the accidental space wanderer, but if no such mission is featured, then the character is left to their own devices as they wander through space on a misadventure of the ages, with all the wacky space hijinks that ensues.

Despite what fiction would have you to believe, this type of scenario is impossible in Real Life. There are so many safety and security measures in place for spacecraft launches that the chance of someone stumbling into one and accidentally pressing something to launch themselves into space is zero. Launches are not as simple as pressing a Big Red Button labelled "LAUNCH." It requires advanced preparation days or weeks beforehand, and final approval to launch goes to Mission Control. The chance of someone stowing away on a spacecraft is also impossible because of how dangerous it really is, given that it could result in death of the occupant either by suffocation to the vacuum of space, starvation due to lack of life support, radiation exposure, or other manners of space-related issues. Needless to say, this trope pretty much runs on Rule of Cool and Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Accidental launches and accidental stowaways are more feasible in Science Fiction due to the lack of the aforementioned reality checks, but even then, these are still in the realm of fiction.

Compare Falling into the Cockpit. May overlap with Outside Ride.


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    Comic Books 
  • Captain Atom: This was Captain Atom's origin in Charlton Comics. Allen Adams (or Adam, depending on the panel) was a technician performing last-minute adjustments on a Titan rocket when it launched, taking him into orbit where he became a super-being.
  • De Cape et de Crocs: A variation towards the end of the comic. The cast is already on the Moon but needs to get back to Earth. Mad Scientist Bombastus helps them build a new ship, but stays onboard during the countdown and only realizes the problem after the ship has launched.
    Bombastus: I wanted to stay on the Moon!
  • In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Kara wants to punish her parents for not letting her take part in a parade, so she hides in a rocket which was meant to send a message to Superman. However, she falls asleep and awakens violently when the rocket crashes on Earth.
  • In Superman story "Superman's Return to Krypton", the Man of Steel is trapped in the Krypton's past, where he is making a living as an actor. Kal-El is filming a scene involving a borrowed real rocketship and a flaming-breathing beast, when the animal gets away, charges into the ship like mad, bursts into the rocket chamber, and pours tongues of flames into the tubes. Having its engines fueled, the rocket blasts off into space automatically, geting Kal-El far away from Krypton.
  • Tintin: In Tintin: Explorers on the Moon, shortly after Calculus's rocket has taken off, the protagonists discover that Thompsons are still inside because they mistook the time of the takeoff (thinking it was set for 1:34 in the afternoon, not 1:34 in the morning) and decided to spend the night in the rocket so they could inspect it before the launch. The two end up being obliged to participate in the exploration of the Moon. It's an Unbuilt Trope (the comic book came out in 1954, making it possibly one of the first example of this trope) as the presence of the Thompsons, plus another stowaway, ends up stretching the ship's oxygen supplies to the limit, and even with the Heroic Sacrifice of The Mole who spaces himself so the others can live, and the accidental death of the villainous stowaway, the crew almost dies and has to be reanimated with pure oxygen bottles when landing on Earth.

    Fan Works 
  • The Many Worlds Interpretation: This happens to Penny. When she tries to stop Sheldon Cooper meddling with the controls of the Travelling Engine, she discovers it's too late to prevent him, and his random prodding at the controls immediately projects them both first into Deep Space and then onto the surface of the Moon.note 

    Films — Animation 
  • Beavis And Butthead Do The Universe: After accidentally destroying Highland High School during the science fair, a judge sentences Beavis and Butthead to attend Space Camp. They find some controls for a demonstration of a docking process, and have too much fun playing around with it because it reminds them of their only goal in life: sex. They spend all night playing with it, and get invited to join a real astronaut in space. They eagerly accept, because they think she's asking them to have sex with her. But when the time comes to actually dock something to the International Space Station, they fail miserably, because they blinded themselves playing with a telescope.
  • Curious George (2006): At the end of the film, George and Ted were accidentally launched into space.
  • Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back: Comet wants to be taken seriously as a real space chimp and gets his wish when he accidentally activates the spaceship to launch.
  • WALL•E: The rocket that brought EVE to Earth returns to retrieve her after she successfully finds a living plant. Too late to be brought inside the spacecraft, Wall-E grips the rungs of an access ladder on its outer hull as the rocket roars out of Earth's atmosphere on its way to deep space towards the Axiom. Good thing robots can survive in the vacuum of space.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dark Star: "Sergeant Pinback" is not actually Sergeant Pinback at all; he was just a technician who accidentally got stuck in the real sergeant's gear and was ushered into the spacecraft before anyone realized what happened.
  • In Flash Gordon (1980), Flash and Dale are press-ganged at gunpoint by the Mad Scientist Dr. Zarkov into joining him on a space flight. Despite this rocky start, Zarkov ends up their friend and is ultimately a good guy.
  • Gamera vs. Guiron: Played with. The ship that appears seems to be this trope but later turns out to be a trap with no definite prey in mind. After the unoccupied ship lands on Earth and the two boys sneak aboard, the ship takes off. Luckily for the two children, Gamera has spotted this and tails the ship.
  • Olsen-banden Junior: The protagonist is adopted from an orphanage, and as it turns out, his new "parents" are involved in a company that intends Denmark to be the first nation to send a human into space. While they have intended their adoptive son for this, he along with his group of friends and some scheming manages to trap the company chairman inside the launching rocket, turning him into the first human in space.
  • The Reluctant Astronaut: Don Knotts starred as a young man who played an astronaut at the local fairground. He gets work as a janitor at NASA, but mistakenly gets shut into a space capsule and fired into space.
  • SpaceCamp: A group of children is attending the titular space camp to learn about the NASA space program and experience astronaut training. When a malfunctioning robot hears one of them wish to go into space, it hacks the NASA computers and fires up one of the booster rockets while the kids are inside the space shuttle, forcing NASA Mission Control to ignite the other rocket and launch the shuttle into orbit instead of letting it crash.
  • Stowaway (2021): The plot revolves around a technician who is stuck behind a service panel of the spacecraft and is accidentally launched into space.

  • Adventures of Dunno: In Dunno on the Moon, Dunno and Roly-Poly sneak onto the rocket intended for the Moon expedition after being excluded from it, planning to fly as stowaways. Roly-Poly accidentally presses the launch button while they are still the only ones onboard.
  • The First Men in the Moon: Near the end of the story, after Bedford has been forced to leave Cavor behind on the moon and barely made it back to Earth in the sphere they designed, a curious boy enters the sphere and activates it, sending him off into space, and leaving Bedford with no way of ever going back to retrieve Cavor. The kid's fate is not revealed. This scene was also included in the 2010 movie, except here it's an adult who accidentally launches the sphere.
  • The Last Hero:
    • Subverted. Rincewind volunteers to be part of the crew of the first flying machine of the Discworld not because he wants to, but specifically to avoid suffering this trope. He knows that it's faster and safer than ending up in the starship by hiding in a box because he was fleeing from something even more dangerous. As he explains to Vetinari, that's how his life works.
    • But played straight with the Librarian, who went to sleep in a corner of the Kite shortly before launch. "Ankh-Morpork, we have an orang-utan..."
  • Risk: Defied by the engineer sent on board an experimental spacecraft that failed to take off: even if he has the situation under control, he deliberately smashes the multi-million-dollar flight computer in order to prevent becoming this trope.
  • Skylark Series: When Duquesne and Perkins seize Dorothy Vaneman and drag her onto their spacecraft to kidnap her, Perkins makes the mistake of stepping too close to her feet to tie them up. He gets a full-force kick that sends him flying into the controls, turning on the power, and they abruptly take off with enough acceleration to render them all unconscious. Instead of going up out of sight and then coming down elsewhere to hide Dorothy away, as planned, everyone is soon on an interstellar voyage, as the power is depleted by the time they wake up.
  • Star Wars Legends: In Starfighters of Adumar, Wes Janson recounts the story of Tomer "Ejector" Darpen, a Y-Wing pilot who has to crash-land his battle-damaged fighter. After bouncing up and down the length of the landing site (which had been cleared as a makeshift runway) and skidding to a halt, Darpen has long enough to sigh in relief before his ejector seat malfunctions. Because they were based on a low-gravity moon at the time, he achieves escape velocity and has to be rescued by a shuttle.
  • The Gulf Between by Tom Godwin. A spy steals a prototype spacecraft so he can fly it to his own country, but gives the wrong order to the robot pilot and is immediately pressed into the pilot's couch by the acceleration as they fly off into space, unable to move or speak to issue the command to slow down while the robot obediently carries out his last order, including helping the pilot stay alive with drugs and artificial implants.
  • Chindi by Jack McDevitt has an automated alien spacecraft that—instead of jumping through hyperspace like human spaceships—uses constant acceleration to up to a quarter light speed to take The Slow Path across interstellar distances. Unfortunately, a member of the expedition is still on the spacecraft when it takes off earlier than they anticipated. While his colleagues can jump through hyperspace to get ahead of him, the problem is matching the spacecraft's velocity once they come out of hyperspace.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Astronauts (2020): The five kids board the Odyssey 2 simply to check the spacecraft out. However, unbeknownst to them, the ship's rogue AI seals the kids inside and launches them into space.
  • Blackadder: Played with in the special "Blackadder Back & Forth". Blackadder claims to have built a time machine, betting his friends that he can travel through time and space and collect relics from the past. When he enters the machine and believes it to be a decoy, Blackadder activates the controls and then finds the machine actually works, sending them back to the age of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, Baldrick forgot to label the dials with the numbers to set the date, and unable to return to the present time, they are doomed to fly through time for all time, with plenty of shots of the machine flying through space (surrounded by spacecraft when they travel too far into the future).
  • Come Back Mrs. Noah: The show is about a woman who wins a tour of the UK's new space exploratory vehicle. Whilst there, a disastrous set of events occur at mission control, and she and a group of other people are sent orbiting the Earth in said vehicle. Hence, the plot of the show is about trying to get them back. At the end of the show, yet another attempt to rescue them is made, but it leads to them being pushed even further into space.
  • Cousin Skeeter: "New Kids on the Planet" has Skeeter, Bobby, Nina, and Skeeker's crush, Nicole, go to space camp. Attempting to impress Nicole, Skeeter sneaks everyone on a Space Shuttle, believing it to be just one of the camp's simulators. After messing around with the controls they find out it is in fact a real shuttle and are launched into space. Taken further when Skeeter hits the hyperdrive button (while trying to press a Do not touch! note to it), sending them to an alien world.
  • Doctor Who:
    • At the end of "The War Machines", Ben and Polly enter the TARDIS to give the Doctor a message just as he's initiating take-off procedures. As a result, they're stuck travelling with the Doctor until the next time the TARDIS lands in 1960s England.
    • In "The Time Warrior", Sarah Jane Smith is suspicious of the Doctor and sneaks into the TARDIS looking for evidence of what he's up to. While she's exploring the interior, the Doctor also enters the TARDIS and takes off, unwittingly bringing Sarah Jane along for the ride.
    • In "Logopolis", Tegan Jovanka enters the TARDIS thinking it's a real police box. While she's exploring the interior, the Doctor also enters the TARDIS and takes off, unwittingly bringing Tegan along for the ride.
  • Far Out Space Nuts: The show is about two janitors who were loading food onto a NASA rocket. However, the launch button was pressed instead of the lunch button, sending them off to space.
  • Lost in Space: Doctor Smith was originally a saboteur who was accidentally launched with the Jupiter 2. He was partially responsible for the Robinsons getting lost, because his weight wasn't accounted for in calculations for the journey.
  • Mission: Impossible: In the 80s revival episode "Target: Earth" Shannon Reed becomes an accidental astronaut when a group of terrorists override the shuttle she is performing tests on and force it to actually launch.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: The episode "24 Hours Until Doomsday" ends with Terrence Meyers accidentally trapping himself in a prototype rocket and getting launched into the outer atmosphere. Several seasons later, it's revealed that he crash-landed in Borneo, where he was apparently worshipped as a god.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: This is how at least Joel and Mike are said to have wound up on the Satellite of Love, shot into space as test subjects, although later versions of Mike's theme song stopped mentioning it.
  • Scorpion: In "It Isn't the Fall That Kills You," a freak lightning strike while Walter is working on a shuttle results in him being launched into space. This is of course a problem, as the shuttle wasn't ready to launch even before being damaged; multiple systems aren't working, including the oxygen. Walter quickly succumbs to hypoxia, forcing the team to throw together a rescue plan that involves forcing the door and flushing him into the upper atmosphere.
  • The Time Tunnel: In "One Way to the Moon," Tony and Doug land inside a rocket just before it blasts off.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VII: During the latter half of the game, Shinra schemes to use the Shinra No. 26 rocket in Rocket Town to launch the four Huge Materia directly into Meteor in hopes of nuking it out of orbit. Cloud, Cid and pals board the rocket in hopes of stealing the Huge Materia for themselves and wind up trapped inside when the rocket launches, thereby finally fulfilling Cid's dream of traveling to space. Regardless of whether or not the party claims the Huge Materia, they eject via escape pod and safely return to the Planet to stop Sephiroth (and also regardless, the explosion barely damages the Meteor's surface).
    • The same rocket's first launch failed because Shera, one of the scientists, stayed onboard to do some last-minute repairs to a faulty oxygen tank. She would have been killed if the main engines fired - which she knew and had accepted - but Cid canceled the launch to save her, ruining the mission and his dream.
  • Half-Life 2: In Episode Two, upon meeting with Kleiner and Magnusson in the White Forest rocket silo, Kleiner's pet headcrab Lamarr can be seen scrambling into the satellite rocket through an open hatch and falling asleep inside. Later on during the launch, Kleiner notes a small weight anomaly caused by Lamarr still resting inside of the rocket, but this is ignored and the launch goes forward as planned. Lamarr's fate post-launch remains unknown, but he might have a companion up there, as the game has an Achievement for taking a garden gnome in the first chapter and carrying it all the way to the rocket.
  • Outer Wilds: In Timber Hearth's space museum, the section recounting the history of Outer Wilds Ventures mentions that the famous astronaut Feldspar was the first Hearthian to be intentionally launched into space. Further details are not supplied.

  • Freefall: The cephalopodic alien called "Sam Starfall" snuck onto the spacecraft of visiting human explorers and passed out due to the Earth-normal atmosphere containing insufficient oxygen. Fortunately his species is capable of a highly-risky form of suspended metabolism, and he managed to survive while his accidental hosts were in cryostasis for the journey back to Earth. The explorers were horrified when they realized they'd brought an alien back — among other unsettling features, Sam's chromatophores required him to get a certification that he exists in only three dimensions, and humans seeing him outside his encounter suit usually take SAN damage.
  • Kevin & Kell: Rudy, acting out due to jealousy over Lindesfarne getting so much attention about being the first hedgehog in space, stows away in the cargo bay so he can get some of the spotlight.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10 sees our heroes investigate a possible alien plot at a space launch facility. Gwen and Grampa Max are climbing up inside the engineering section of what appears to be an automated cargo rocket, when the Villain of the Week's plan causes the launch prematurely. The engines fire, And Max holds Gwen against the ladder, mock-congratulating her on suddenly becoming an astronaut. Which doesn't help the terrified girl's mood any.
  • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers: The Rescue Rangers are at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of an experimental new space plane. However, due to a series of circumstances, Chip and Dale end up inside a space suit that is placed aboard the space plane just prior to launch. Initially, Monterrey Jack points out to Gadget that they're perfectly fine aboard the ship, and they'll be back when the space plane lands. But then the space suit the two chipmunks are in is accidentally jettisoned into space, and while the crew plan to retrieve it, they don't plan to do so for two weeks, prompting Gadget to quickly build and launch a makeshift rocket to retrieve the boys.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • "Where No Duck Has Gone Before": During the filming of the first revamped episode of Courage of the Cosmos, the starship Phoenix smashes through the ceiling and goes into space (Scrooge told Gyro to make the set as real as possible, and Gyro took him literally). This causes trouble when the crew (the boys, Launchpad, and a grandstanding actor) encounters very real and hostile aliens.
    • "The Right Duck": Launchpad was supposed to board a simulator, but accidentally ends up in a rocket containing a space probe headed to Mars, and when Doofus tries to warn him, they're both sent to Mars.
  • DuckTales (2017): This happens to Donald Duck at the end of "The Golden Spear!," after seeing a spaceship crash to earth. He assumes that his long-lost sister, Della is inside the spaceship and runs to the site of the crash, only for him to get trapped inside the spaceship and taken to the moon.
  • Engie Benjy: Subverted in "Jollop Alone." Jollop the dog accidentally ends up inside Spaceship the sentient spaceship and ends up flying upwards, but thankfully manages to land before reaching space.
  • Family Guy: In "Space Cadet," Chris goes to space camp and as he has the whole Griffin family on a tour of the Space Shuttle, Stewie excitedly hits the Big Red Button, launching them into orbit.
  • Fantastic Max: The backstory of the original Space Baby pilot movie explains that Max was intially an accidental astronaut after wandering away from his parents at Cape Canaveral. This led to him being later able to make his own spacecraft ... somehow.
  • Fireball XL5: In the episode Drama at Space City, Commander Zero's son Jonathan is looking after Zoonie the Lazoon for his owner. They go poking around XL 5 and while in the cockpit, Zoonie repeats what he has heard there before — the command "Full Power." Robert the Robot, who is in the co-pilot seat as usual, takes this as an order and the ship launches.
  • The Hair Bear Bunch answer a scientist's ad for astronauts to be sent on a mission to Mars (episode "No Space Like Home"). They are suited up and ready for take-off when zookeepers Peevly and Botch arrive to send them back to the forest. The keepers become astronauts as well, like it or not. (The comic book adaptation had the bears tricked into being astronauts.)
  • Hare-Way to the Stars: Bugs Bunny accidentally climbs out of his rabbit hole and straight into the rocket set just over it.
  • Johnny Bravo: In "Bravo 13," Johnny mistakes NASA for a theme park and a rocket for a ride which results in him going into space.
  • Josie and the Pussycats:
    • The titular cast are captured by Doctor Strangemoon, who believes the musical group and their roadies are spies sent by the government. For some reason, the Mad Scientist decides to put three of the six (Alexander, Melody, and Alexandra) aboard his space capsule. These three are successfully launched into orbit, despite the added 300 pounds in the nose section.
    • The spin-off Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space begins with this trope. While posing for publicity stills in front of a space rocket, Alexandra decides that she doesn't want to be on the fringe, where she can easily be cropped out. Instead, she tries to move to the center, nudging the group behind her. Josie and company lose their balance, and tumble into the crew compartment, pulling Alexandra with them. A stumbling Josie pulls the launch lever by accident, and away they go.
  • In a Kim Possible episode, Dr. Possible is talking on the phone in his lab and accidentally leans on a button. His conversation partner, an astronomer, notices the rocket has gone up before Dr. Possible does. Fortunately, it was unmanned.
    Dr. Possible: Went up like a dream. Too bad it wasn't supposed to launch until next week, though.
  • Mr. Magoo: In "Destination Magoo," Magoo wanders into an experimental rocket and accidentally launches it with himself inside. It crashes next to Coney Island's Luna Park, which Magoo mistakes for the actual moon.
  • The Patrick Star Show: In "To Dad and Back," Patrick goes inside the body of his dad, Cecil. Cecil ends up at an astronaut testing site, but after spinning in the centrifuge, needs to vomit. Trying to find the bathroom, he ends up running onto a space shuttle, which launches while he's using the toilet in it. After vomiting, Cecil accidentally flushes himself down, ejecting both his waste and himself. He crash lands next to his house on Earth.
  • Planet Sheen: The inciting incident is when Sheen finds a rocket in Jimmy's lab, gets inside, and ignores the instruction to not press the launch button, sending him blasting off to a distant alien planet.
  • Popeye: In the short "Rocket to Mars," Popeye and Olive Oyl get inside a rocket ship at a museum, and cause it to blast off to Mars where they then must thwart a Martian invasion of Earth.
    • Popeye, Olive and Wimpy wind up on the moon this way in "Hits and Missiles." Blinded by two fried eggs Wimpy was cooking in his hat, Olive stumbles backwards and falls into a lever sending the three into space.
  • The Raccoons: Subverted in "The Wrong Stuff!". When Bentley takes Broo to the site where Cyril Sneer plans to launch his own TV satellite into space, Broo accidentally gets himself trapped inside the satellite after Bentley leaves him alone. When Bert, Bentley, and Cedric find out about this, they try to get him out of there before launch, which they fortunately succeed at.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: The series' Distant Finale, "Future Schlock'' has two examples:
    • In Filburt's flashback, Rocko and Heffer accidentally get launched into space when they follow a monkey that was used as a test subject for Conglom-O that they were trying to save into the very rocket he was set to be on, and the monkey presses the launch button. They return to Earth seventeen years later.
    • At the end of the episode, Filburt's children accidentally launch Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt into space when they drive the rocket into Rocko's house.
  • Shorty McShorts' Shorts: The segment "Dudley and Nestor Do Nothing" sees the titular characters on a field trip to a space center. Accidentally boarding a spacecraft in search of a restroom, the two are sent into space and inadvertently save the planet from an asteroid.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Sandy's Rocket," SpongeBob and Patrick accidentally launch themselves into space by messing with the controls of the titular spaceship. The rocket crash-lands back in Bikini Bottom, which SpongeBob and Patrick mistake for the surface of the Moon.
  • Taz-Mania: In "Astro-Taz," Taz finds himself onboard a combat spaceship intended to handle an incoming meteorite shower. After accidentally launching it, he believes himself to be in a video game, to which the ground crew just says "Sure, let's go with it," and makes him destroy the meteoroids anyway.
  • Teen Titans Go!: Subverted during the "Island Adventures" mini-arc. In a parody of Gilligan's Island, the Titans build a rocket to escape from the island after finding barrels of rocket fuel scattered around the area. Beast Boy decided to make lunch for the Titans, but in his stupidity, hits the "Launch" button before anyone has a chance to board. The rocket takes off and quickly explodes, much to the relief of everyone upon realizing it would've killed them.
  • Tom and Jerry: After sleeping in a pipe in Mouse Into Space, a man hooks it up to a rocket fuel tank, making Tom stuck in the rocket's fuel compartment. A man also presses the button that launches the rocket, causing the cat to swim away from the fire and Jerry's rocket to lift off.
  • Toonsylvania: In an episode where Melissa Screech goes on a field trip to the launch site, she goes on a space shuttle and presses a button, which told her not to touch, which launches her into space. Melissa arrived on a distant planet and insulted the queen of that planet, demanded the alien race to send her back to Earth.

    Real Life 
  • This bat attempted an Outside Ride on one of the shuttle's external fuel tanks. Sadly, the animal did not survive.