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Dramatic Space Drifting

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"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 favorite Cyberpunk 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 Stinger of the final episode shows Char's Hyaku Shiki floating by, with its hatch open, letting us know that he survived.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has several examples during its many battles. The most common usage is by showing corpses drifting inside the wreckage of depressurized ships, often trailing blood behind them.
  • Mospeada and its western adaptation Robotech: The New Generation had an introductory scene with a single corpse floating among the wreckage of the first expedition fleet sent to liberate Earth from Inbits/Invids.
  • Gall Force had many scenes, particularly in the introductory battle scene when the ship's hull breach would have the crews sucked out into space or an occasional corpse in a sealed-off area, but the most iconic being the aftermath of Luffy's Heroic Sacrifice where she was left drifting in space.
  • Knights of Sidonia had a single page depicting Hoshijiro's demise, which her mutilated corpse was adrift in space as she was consumed by Gauna.
  • SoltyRei has Solty floating in the debris of space above Earth after destroying Eirene. She spends the next few years stuck up there barely functioning until Roy manages to get up there and find her, with the final shot of him tearfully embracing her as they float in space.
  • Space Battleship Yamato 2199: The first episode and the aftermath of Second Battle of Mars has spaced out crews floating around the debris of destroyed starships.

    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 Rogue Squadron 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.
  • Superman:
    • The Great Darkness Saga: After one Servant of Darkness blows a Legion cruiser up, the bodies of several Legionnaires are seen floating among the wreckage of their starship, temporarily protected from the vacuum of space thanks to one of White Witch's spells.
    • The Killers of Krypton: After the climatic battle between the Omega Men and the Citadel, Harry Hokum's body is seen floating through space.
    • The Immortal Superman: In the year 801,970, Superman finds five astronauts floating in life-preserving spheres in deep space. After rescuing them, they explain their "preservo-spheres" are emergency safety devices which turned on when their spaceship broke down.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: In Issue 8 from Volume 5, frozen dead bodies of Nova Corps were shown in a panel after the Universal Church of Truth mind controlled them into removing their helmets and exposing them to vacuum.

    Comic Strips 
  • The 1960s science fictional "Moon Period" in Dick Tracy is quite justifiably called an Audience-Alienating Era, 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.

    Films — Animated 
  • Dead Space: Downfall ends with Vincent's body floating through space, as the series' theme song "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" plays.
  • The haunting ending of "Magnetic Rose", the first segment of Memories.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey when Frank Poole's body is drifting.
  • An underwater version of this is seen in the wreckage of the USS Montana in The Abyss.
  • Alien - Kane's dead body is shot from an airlock as if out of a cannon.
  • An early example: George Pal's 1955 film Conquest of Space has a crew member who is attached to a rope 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.
  • The opening shot of the Warhammer 40,000 film Damnatus, including a human skull for no discernible reason other than Grimdarkness.
  • The ending of Dark Star. Completely Played for Laughs, especially given the music playing at the time.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Mine begins with a closeup of a dead pilot amidst the wreckage of his fighter during the battle.
  • 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.
  • The rock monster in Galaxy Quest.
  • 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.
  • Jupiter Ascending: When Caine is spaced by Titus Abrasax for 'betraying' him instead of just being killed outright - but not before explaining to Caine the entirety of his Evil Plan. it works out exactly as you'd expect for Titus.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, after The Mutiny against Yondu ends with his loyalists Thrown Out the Airlock, we're treated to a shot of the line of bodies trailing behind the ship.
    • Avengers: Infinity War: When the Guardians arrive at the location of the Asgardian distress call, they find nothing but debris and bodies floating in space. Thor is among them, but still alive.
    • Avengers: Endgame opens with Tony Stark recording a final message for Pepper Potts, since the Benatar has suffered engine failure and is running out of food, water and oxygen, leaving them drifting through deep space. Captain Marvel finds them and single-handedly tows the ship to Earth.
  • Hugo Drax in Moonraker, after being ejected by Bond with the classic quip "Take a giant step for mankind."
  • The Phantom Planet has the lead character's co-pilot ending up like this after a Heroic Sacrifice. His last line is reciting the Lord's Prayer while drifting away from his spaceship.
  • 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".
  • A deliberate version in Star Trek: First Contact when an unarmed Captain Picard is facing a Borg drone while EVA on the hull of the Enterprise. Picard releases his magnetic boots so he floats away over the Borg's head. It's downplayed though as he's able to grab onto something further on and regain his footing. However several other drones play the trope straight during the same scene; for instance when a drone is advancing towards one character he shoots a conduit, releasing a cloud of gas that blasts the drone into space.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Super Nova, 2000 Sci-Fi Horror film, had this with the fate of Danika, who was Thrown Out Of The Airlock by Troy and later see her body flailing for a moment before dying from asphyxiation. Her lover, Yerzy, also had this, though was already struck in the head with a blunt object by Troy beforehand..

  • 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.
  • Chindi by Jack McDevitt
    • Priscilla Hutchins gets caught outside the hull when a spacecraft jumps out of hyperspace, gets disoriented and lets go of her tether, and worse throws up in her spacesuit so has the added risk of drowning. She has to be saved by a media cameraman who was filming her heroics.
    • Someone else makes the mistake of crouching down while on the outside of a spacecraft, losing the grip on his Sticky Shoes. Fortunately he has the presence of mind to remember there's an incline behind him, shoves his foot backwards and regains his grip. Earlier the expedition commander wasn't so lucky—when the Big Dumb Object he's on takes off at Ludicrous Speed, he's killed after he becomes detached and another part of the BDO collides with him.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Maelstrom II" revolves around an astronaut named Cliff Leyland drifting in a low orbit around the moon after an accident with his capsule's launch. Much of his time is spent waiting to see if he can be rescued and reunited with his family, or is doomed to crash and die.
  • Laszlo Hadron and the Wargod's Tomb: Isis Lagato reaches Secret Government Warehouse Sel'Akis by jumping out of her ship's cargo bay as it flies over the planetoid's surface, giving her a few moments of this.

    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 (2003) has 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:
    • In the episode "Bushwhacked" when Serenity encounters a derelict ship and then a dead body smacks into the cockpit windshield, startling Wash (and the audience).
    • In the episode "Objects in Space" when Jubal Early is spaced and left to die. Played for comedic value at the end of the episode, as even Jubal recognizes he is performing some excellent Dramatic Space Drifting.
      Early: Well, here I am.
  • Happens all the time on The Expanse. A common variation is corpses still held to the deck by their mag-boots, their arms floating surreally.
  • For All Mankind: In "Bent Bird", Apollo 25 is sent up to replace a damaged computer on Apollo 24. Unfortunately when the computer is replaced it executes the last command it was given and fires off the main booster while Apollo 25 is still tethered to it. Its commander Molly Cobb is forced to release the tether to save her ship, leaving her adrift in space. Fellow astronaut Tracey Stevens is able to find her again despite Molly orbiting through the night side of the Earth when her flashlight goes out. Unlike some other fictional examples, orbital mechanics and fuel are important factors; Apollo 25 doesn't have the fuel to do the intercept and is at first ordered to return to Earth instead, only for Tracey to exercise her command authority now Molly is off the ship.
  • One satirical special by Rory Bremner ended with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, wanting to conquer the final frontier, heading out on a space walk... only to drift away into space, as the other end of their tether wasn't attached to anything.
  • Space: 1999: In the episode "War Games", Commander Koenig ejects from his Eagle just before it is destroyed and is left floating helplessly in space, though he does eventually come to terms with the destruction of Moonbase Alpha and his own impending demise. Luckily it all turns out to be an illusion.
  • 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: The Next Generation:
    • The franchise does this pretty often, but one of the standouts is in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2", when 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 finally do 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.

  • 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: Rinoa is left drifting in space after Ultimecia possesses her body and uses it to turn off the machine that was keeping the sorceress Adel sealed. Although she almost runs out of oxygen, Squall leaves the escape pod he's in to rescue her, and the two manage to survive by making it to the abandoned ship Ragnarok.
  • 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.
  • Moons of Madness ends this way, with the protagonist having stopped the awakening of some creatures capable of ending reality as we know it, but having sacrificed himself in the process, leaving him drifting in space.
  • Wing Commander:
  • 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.
  • One scene occurs in the starting area, Quarantine Zone, from Guardians of the Galaxy (2021), where a long dead Nova Corps member would be floating among debris during Milano's venture into the area where entire area was covered by forcefield and goo to prevent debris from affecting interstellar travel after a massive battle.


    Western Animation 
  • Similar to the first Wing Commander entry, above, in the episode "The Last One Left" of Wing Commander Academy, you see the empty helmet of Daimon Karnes floating in space, at the end of the episode.
  • Futurama: Bender does this after being fired out of a torpedo tube in which he was napping.
  • Happens to Black Dynamite, after his crappy space ship falls apart. Dynamite is saved thanks to his gun and a stereotypical black voice AI.
  • The Steven Universe episode "Bubbled" consists almost entirely of this, as Steven and Eyeball Ruby, having been Thrown Out the Airlock in the previous episode, drift through space together.
  • The Rick and Morty episode "The Ricklantis Mixup" closes on the bodies of several Ricks and Mortys drifting around the Citadel of Ricks after being Thrown Out the Airlock by the newly elected president, Evil Morty.
  • Love, Death & Robots: In "Helping Hand", an astronaut is adrift in space, so she removes her glove and throws it in the opposite direction to propel herself back towards her spaceship. Her hand freezes up in less than a minute, so when she misses her chance to grab the spaceship she breaks off the frozen arm and throws it away as well.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • In "Rising Malevolence", the first escape pod that Plo Koon and the clones encounter in the debris field is facing away from them; when Koon turns it around, it's shown that it's been attacked and cut open, with a dead clone floating in the hole in the viewport. Later, after fighting off a squad of battle droids trying to breach their escape pod, Plo Koon and his men float outside in space, exhausted and low on oxygen until Ahsoka senses them and rescues them.
    • After narrowly preventing a deadly explosive ship from killing everyone at a meeting, Artoo is caught in the premature explosion and is retrieved from space afterwards.
  • Star Wars Rebels parodies this with AP-5 at one point, who was stranded in space after a scuffle. As he starts monologuing about being alone in the dead of space and how he actually enjoys it, baby neebray suddenly appear out of nowhere and start flying around him like a flurry of birds, and he's about to break out into song until the Ghost finds him and rescues him, much to his disappointment.
  • Final Space: Every episode in the first season opens with Gary In Medias Res floating among the wreckage of a battle as his spacesuit's oxygen slowly runs out, with each episode's opening showing the next minute until his oxygen depletes. The reason for how he ends up like this is ultimately shown in the season finale.


Video Example(s):


Frank's death

HAL kills Frank by cutting his life support with the pod. After that, dead Frank and the pod float away into space.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / DramaticSpaceDrifting

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