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Dramatic Space Drifting

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Nothing to do now but count the stars.

"It's cold outside
There's no kind of atmosphere
I'm all alone
More or less..."
Ending theme, Red Dwarf

So you're watching a good old Space Opera or your favourite Cyber Punk TV series. There's been a grand battle and within all the excitement, you forget that in an intergalactic space war so big there must have been at least a few casualties. It is of course, the writers' jobs to remind of this eventually so as to add to the drama whilst slowing the pace a little.

Next you, the casual viewer, will be shown images of the debris left behind in the battle. It will only be a matter of time before you're shown a body (or parts thereof) floating within the wreckage.

This is Dramatic Space Drifting.

Common in Science Fiction, this is when a spaceship blows up in a battle and relatively important characters are visible drifting through the debris, usually with all body parts intact. This is a trope based mostly in aesthetics rather than adherence to scientific fact, though a lot of modern depictions manage to accurately portray the effects of decompression on human beings (namely that a person does not explode nor freeze, instead suffocating in vacuum). Characters are usually dead, thus emphasizing the tragic consequences of the battle at a human level, but there are occasions in which characters are still alive and such occasions can either have the same effect or achieve a more comedic one.


See also Thrown Out the Airlock. Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering may be used to escape this situation.

No relation at all to Multi-Track Drifting.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop: When the Bebop runs out of or fuel, which happens a few times over the course of the series, they will just drift to their destination.
  • Tenchi Muyo! had living characters drift through space on at least two occasions
  • Outlaw Star sort of does this in the episode "Cats and Girls and Spaceships" though a flower was used instead of a human.
  • Gundam often features this, usually with a character's battered mecha, although the pilot's often still alive inside. An episode of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam begins with the body of a soldier from the One Year War having drifted out somewhere around Saturn. Early episodes showed the drifting corpse of Kamille's mother.
  • The haunting ending of Satoshi Kon's "Magnetic Rose," the first short in Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories compilation.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes

    Comic Books 
  • "The Short, Happy Life of Roons Sewell", a comic arc in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, ended with Roons' death; the front of his Y-Wing exploded, sending shrapnel through his flight suit and ejecting him into space. There's an image of him still out there during his eulogy, frozen dead with a manic smile on his face. Unusually for this trope, it's a relatively uplifting thing - he gave his life, he saved people in doing this, his sacrifice had meaning. If we cannot celebrate the moments we hold back a dark tide, why fight it at all?
  • In Rogue Leader, an X-Wing Series comic, it was shown that a week after the Battle of Endor, the sanctuary moon's skies are still crowded with ships and bodies (and pieces of both). Some pilots, including Wedge, signed up for salvage duty, because even Imperials deserved a proper funeral.
  • Judge Dredd: At the end of "Dark Justice", three of the Dark Judges are blasted into the vacuum of space (the fourth having been previously captured in spirit form with a suction trap) when Dredd, Anderson, and the survivors of the Mayflower escape in the aquatic dome. Dredd quips that floating forever might at least be some kind of justice.

    Films — Animated 
  • Dead Space: Downfall ends with Vincent's body floating through space, as the series theme song "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" plays.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey when Frank Poole's body is drifting.
  • The ending of Dark Star. Completely Played for Laughs, especially given the music playing at the time.
  • Enemy Mine begins with a closeup of a dead pilot amidst the wreckage of his fighter during the battle.
  • An underwater version of this is seen in the wreckage of the USS Montana in The Abyss.
  • The rock monster in Galaxy Quest.
  • The opening shot of the Warhammer 40,000 film Damnatus, including a human skull for no discernible reason other than Grimdarkness.
  • A quick flash during the opening space battle above Coruscant in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, when the Clone fighters escorting Anakin and Obi Wan are blown up.
  • Star Trek (2009) shows us how one ends up with dramatic space drifting when it depicts a person hurtling out of a breach in the hull of the Kelvin. Played straight when USS Enterprise warps into Vulcan's orbit and finds the fleet that arrived shortly before has been massacred.
  • Alien - Kane's dead body is shot from an airlock as if out of a cannon.
  • Parodied in Spy Hard, where General Rancor is launched into space aboard his rocket, and then floats around until he slams into an Apollo-type spacecraft, prompting a voiceover of "Houston, we have a problem".
  • The plot of Gravity is about two such characters, knocked free after their space shuttle is destroyed by a cloud of space debris. The question is then, how do you get back to Earth?
    • There's also a few drifting corpses in some of the early scenes, some of whom aren't even wearing spacesuits.
    • Also the ultimate fate of Matt Kowalski.
  • An early example: George Pal's 1955 film Conquest Of Space has a crew member who is attached to a string and hanging of the side of the ship after shards from an asteroid puncture his suit. The rest of the crew quickly become unnerved by having the body dangling off the side so the commander eventually decides to release him.
  • George Pal's earlier film Destination Moon had a mid-mission crisis where one of the crew accidentally falls off the side of the rocket and is stuck floating off the back. Fortunately his partners are able to save him.
  • Europa Report: James Corrigan provides a Heroic Sacrifice by letting himself drift off into space when a failed maintenance job sprays a toxic substance over his spacesuit and he runs the risk of poisoning the atmosphere of the ship.
  • Hugo Drax in Moonraker, after being ejected by Bond with the classic quip "Take a giant step for mankind."
  • Avengers: Infinity War: When the Guardians arrive at the location of the distress call, they find the debris and the bodies of the people of Asgard floating in space, one of them being Thor, who has survived.

  • This is the plot of the Ray Bradbury short story (and play) Kaleidoscope. Most of them are live (for now), and able to talk to each other by radio till they get out of range.
    • Also No Particular Night or Morning, which ends with an insane astronaut jettisoning himself out into space, though unlike most examples he actually finds such a fate rather comforting.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • The last chapter of Shards of Honor focuses on a shuttle crew recovering bodies in Escobar orbit after the big battle.
    • In Komarr a precise analysis of the trajectory of drifting debris is used to help determine the cause of a space accident.
  • In The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, one of the characters passes through a portal onto a warship that's been destroyed in the fighting — it's open to space and full of the dead bodies of its crew.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Happens in Shatterpoint with the troop complements of a number of destroyed Drop Ships — infantry, grenadiers, and the like. Except because they're in environment suits, they're still alive. And because they're clones, they keep fighting. In fact, the associated short story "Equipment" is told through the eyes of one of these troopers. He lives.
    • The end of Galaxy of Fear: Spore has a Star Destroyer torn apart in the middle of an Asteroid Thicket, scattering its mind-controlled crew out into the vacuum. Spore's primary host is killed. It survives, but it's harmless without air and a living primary host.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Arthur and Ford are tossed off the Vogon ship. They float free for a few seconds before the Infinite Improbability Drive brings the ship to save them.
  • Avengers of the Moon, by Allen Steele. The Comet is coupled to a laser sail spaceship to be ferried to Mars, but a saboteur tries to detach them from the support cradle mid-way, so the crew will die of starvation before they can get to a planet. Captain Future goes EVA to stop him and succeeds, but during the struggle his safety line is cut and the recoil from his Ray Gun throws him clear. There's no way anyone can go back for him so Captain Future resigns himself to dying, but fortunately a Space Police cruiser has been secretly following them and picks him up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Babylon 5, when Commander Sinclair finally remembers what happened at the Battle of the Line: his squad member Mitchell is ambushed and killed, and the next thing we see is his helmet drifting away, past Sinclair's front view in his Starfury.
  • Battlestar Galactica had Lee floating through space after the destruction of the Blackbird, watching Galactica and Pegasus tear two Cylon basestars to pieces. Ron Moore got the idea from the story of Ensign George Gay, the only survivor of his squadron who watched the climax of the Battle of Midway while floating in the Pacific.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Four to Doomsday": Happens when the Doctor's safety line was untied while he was trying to jump through space into the TARDIS. Fortunately, he had a cricket ball in his pocket.
    • "Enlightenment" gives us Turlough's PG suicide attempt.
    • "The Impossible Planet": Scooti's body, when everyone else discovers she's been blown into space, as she's sucked into the black hole.
    • "Under the Lake" has an underwater variant. The other characters discover Pritchard is dead when they see his body floating outside the cafeteria windows.
    • "Oxygen" opens with two spacesuited corpses tumbling through the void, as the Doctor gives a voiceover Chekhov's Lecture on the dangers of outer space.
  • Farscape did several varieties of this several times; one notable instance is D'argo and John floating in space after jumping out a ship which they'd loaded with explosives to ignite an inhabited moon's atmosphere, destroying Scorpius' gammack base.
    • Another point in the series, John had to jump from a ship that was being destroyed (after he had sabotaged it with him still on it), to another ship that was drifting some hundred yards away. The kicker? He did it without a spacesuit.
    • There was also at least two cliffhangers involving John being stranded alone in space after incidents with wormholes. The first time Moya was sucked into a wormhole while he was outside, leaving him alone in the middle of deep space, the second time he was left in orbit around Earth.
  • Several times in Firefly:
    • During the episode "Objects in Space" in which Jubal Early is spaced and left to die. Played for comedic value at the end of the episode, where even Jubal recognizes he is performing some excellent Dramatic Space Drifting.
      Early: Well, here I am.
    • Also in the Firefly episode "Bushwhacked" when Serenity encounters a derelict ship and then a dead body smacks into the cockpit windshield, startling Wash (and the audience).
  • In an episode of Stargate SG-1 a bad guy gets beamed out into space for holding a gun on someone. When the former hostage asks what happened to him, he drifts towards the bridge window and actually gets a shot off before smacking into it and sliding off.
  • Two examples in Stargate Atlantis, both involving Asuran replicators (nanite robots).
    • The first is after an Asuran scientist does a Heel–Face Turn. When the other replicators detect this they wirelessly reprogram him, causing him to attack the Atlantis team. They beam him into outer space, with the episode closing on a shot of him floating around.
    • The second is of Dr. Weir (now turned replicator) and her Ascension-seeking brethren floating in space after she tricked them into following her through the Stargate to protect the rest of the expedition.
  • Star Trek does this pretty often, but one of the standouts is in Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Best of Both Worlds", part II, where we see an incredible amount of debris after the battle with the Borg at Wolf 359 - nearly forty Federations ships all blasted to pieces, amounting to 11,000 deaths. Of course, many would have preferred actually seeing the battle.
    • Which we did, in Deep Space Nine's pilot.
    • In "The Next Phase", Geordi and Ro fight a Romulan who's in phase with them, but out of phase with normal matter, thus all of them having intangibility. The Romulan attacks the pair, but is sent flying through the bulkhead and out into space, where we see him quickly drift out into space, motionless.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The 1960s science fictional "Moon Period" in Dick Tracy is quite justifiably called a Dork Age, but it did give Chester Gould a chance to do some spectacular artwork that he couldn't have done otherwise. The scene where a murderer tosses a body out of the space coupe and leaves it drifting in the black sky is pretty chilling.

  • Journey Into Space: In The Red Planet, Mitch almost drifts off into space but he is rescued by Jet and Lemmy.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VIII had this, though it wasn't after a battle.
  • Quake IV brutally featured this in its intro.
  • StarCraft had a scene in the Terran ending, showing an arm drifting amidst debris, blood trailing from the stump on one end, and smoke trailing from the cigarette still held between its fingers on the other.
  • Sprinkled throughout the zero-gravity sections of Dead Space. Can be expected or a horrifying surprise depending on how well orientated you are.
    • The cover also features an example; what appears to be Isaac's severed arm, floating away.
  • In one of Halo 2: Anniversary terminals, the corpses of several Marines are shown floating alongside the wreckage of several UNSC ships, demonstrating what happens to any human fleet that tries to get in Thel 'Vadamee's way.
  • Played with in LEGO Star Wars: the animation of the destruction of the first Death Star shows all sorts of exploding starship parts flying straight at you, ending with a flailing Stormtrooper minifig.
  • EVE Online will have this at the site of any major PVP battle, at least until some macabre scavenger scoops up the corpses for his trophy collection.
    • Anything smaller than a capital-sized vessel will look like a generic large, medium, or small-sized piece of sparking space-flotsam, depending on the size of the destroyed ship in question. Capital-sized ships, however, look like actual wrecks: they retain the appearance of the original ship while being scorched, hollow, and dark, with several sections of the outer hull missing.
  • In the beginning of Mass Effect 2, during the attack on the Normandy SR-1, Shepard is separated from the ship and thrown out into space. His/her suit begins to leak and Shepard flails wildly as he/she falls into the atmosphere of a nearby planet and burns up.
    • Fun fact: when done with male Shepard, the scene is a shot-for-shot reconstruction of Frank Poole's death in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Wing Commander:
    • One Non-Standard Game Over of Wing Commander I: gained after your carrier is destroyed in a defend-the-base mission, shows your fighter drifting in space with the words, "With your carrier destroyed, you drift endlessly through the void."
    • In the winning ending of Wing Commander II: Special Operations 2, the empty helmet of the traitor Zach "Jazz" Colson is shown floating in space.
    • So he'd be playing the blues now?
    • On rare occasion, after shooting down a ship in Privateer, you can see a body part (often a hand or booted foot) floating in space.
    • When investigating the transport destroyed in the intro of Wing Commander IV, you may see a charred skeleton floating around in space.
  • In Portal 2, you are at one point treated to the picture of Wheatley doing this in the ending. Well, all right, not terribly dramatic since he's an AI and is invulnerable to the effects of spacing, and he's got the Space Module for company.
  • In The Force Unleashed this happens to Starkiller at one point. You can also send enemies to this fate by breaking the windows on ships and getting them sucked out into space.
  • It's possible to do this to yourself (or, well, the kerbalnaut you're controlling) in Kerbal Space Program if you run out of EVA pack fuel before you can reach your spaceship's capsule.
  • In the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands, Vasquez boasts about double-crossing his old boss Henderson and taking his job, when Henderson's frozen corpse drifts pass the window of the space station. Vasquez even points out the appropriateness of the timing.
  • Space Engineers features fully destructible spacecraft, zero gravity, and player ragdolls. This results in exactly what you'd expect.


    Western Animation 


Example of: