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Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering

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CDR Lewis: I can't see you having any control if you did that. You'd be eyeballing the intercept using a thrust vector you can barely control.
Watney: Yes, yes, those are all very good points. But... consider this: I'd get to fly around like Iron Man.
The Martian, on Watney's idea to puncture his EVA suit's glove

A form of MacGyvering where the hero creates thrust to push themselves through the microgravity of space with something other than a designated-purpose thruster. Of course, since there's no air resistance in the vacuum of space, almost anything will do. Thank you, Newton's Third Law!

One common version is to use your airtanks for this, which has bonus dramatic possibilities, because if it doesn't work, you now have less air than when you started.

Gas-Cylinder Rocket is a sister trope that's not confined to space. Often used to escape Dramatic Space Drifting.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop once used the recoil from a pistol in such a fashion.
  • Goku in Dragon Ball Z uses a Kame Hame Hadouken to move his spaceship enough to dodge a threat.
  • At the conclusion of Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Battle Tendency, Kars attempted to do this in order to reenter the Earth's atmosphere after being launched into space by a volcano, and created air jets on his body to give him a bit of impulse. However, it failed: the pressure release from the air jets caused them to become cold enough to completely freeze over, and his trajectory didn't change much.

    Comic Books 
  • When the Fantastic Four were stuck in space thanks to the Baxter Building being launched into space (and then blown up) Reed Richards had Sue, who was keeping them all alive with her forcefield, open up a very small hole in said field. It let a little of their air out, but very slowly—and helped them get back to terra firma.
  • Power Pack has a variation—though not done in space, Alex manages to push himself around while degravitized using just about anything he can find with a spray nozzle, though he gets the most mileage out of a fire extinguisher.
  • Some Star Wars (Marvel 1977) comics have firing blasters as propulsion.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Titan A.E., during the first escape sequence from the Drej, Captain Korso shoots the artificial gravity module, then uses recoil from his pistol to propel himself away. Later, after escaping the space station and finding themselves adrift in vacuum, he and Cale use a fire extinguisher to maneuver back to their ship.
  • In-atmosphere example: Russell from the movie Up used a leafblower to propel himself while he was "technically" weightless, having several balloons tied to him.
  • In one of the signature scenes of WALL•E, Wall-E and Eve "dance" through space outside the Axiom. Wall-E uses a fire extinguisher, while Eve can propel herself.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave Bowman uses the explosive decompression of the air inside his travel pod to return to the Discovery's airlock.
  • In Destination Moon, one astronaut turns an oxygen tank into an improvised thruster jet to rescue an adrift crewmate.
  • In Event Horizon, one of the characters, stranded outside the ship, uses the remaining air in his spacesuit as a rocket in order to get back to the air lock.
  • Gravity. A fire breaks out on the International Space Station, and when Ryan Stone tries to extinguish it the thrust of the extinguisher slams her against the bulkhead, knocking her unconscious for a moment. This becomes a Chekhov's Gun when she later uses the extinguisher to maneuver herself to another space station. And when the charge in THAT runs out, she flings it away to propel herself the few precious inches needed to grasp her objective.
  • In Like Flint. Derek Flint uses a "sonic amplifier" to maneuver in space. Did I mention he's IN SPACE, which is a vacuum?
  • Used twice in the climax of The Martian. Once by the Hermes when it blows out an airlock door to slow down enough to intercept the MAV, and then by Watney when he pokes a hole in his suit glove to accelerate to Lewis' position when her own safety line won't reach him. In the book, the second use was suggested, but ended up not being necessary.
  • In Nutty Professor II: The Klumps the protagonist has an Imagine Spot in which he's floating inside a space capsule and must press an out-of-reach button. He manages to propel himself across the space by farting.
  • In Passengers (2016), Jim finds himself floating away while holding a piece of heat shield he doesn't need any more. He throws it away from him, hard, as a one-off effort to change direction.
  • In Sunshine, the crew escapes the Icarus I by opening the airlock and letting the escaping air blow them across the gap, similar to the scene in 2001.

  • During the climax of Ark Angel, Alex finds himself unable to reach anything while floating around on a space station, and resorts to taking his shoes off and throwing them.
  • One Bolo short story had a Bolo use the recoil from its Hellbore as a propulsion unit.
  • In C-Chute aliens have captured an Earth spaceship, so one character has to exit the ship via the eponymous chute and make his way in a spacesuit around the outside of the hull to the bridge. There's a danger he will be thrown free if the maneuvering nozzles fire while he's doing this, so he takes an extra oxygen tank with a regulator valve in case it's needed for this trope. He turns out using it as an Improvised Weapon instead.
  • In Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, said elevator finds its way into orbit with Charlie and his family inside. They try swimming at first, then Mr. Wonka suggests they try blowing in order to jet themselves about.
  • In Jack McDevitt's Chindi, the protagonists have to catch an alien ship that's traveling faster than any human ship can, so they strap a ship to a huge boulder (small asteroid), and then release it in hyperspace, which gives them just the boost they need.
  • In the Gaea Trilogy, while not in space, the hub of Gaea is basically in zero gee. To escape from it near the end of Wizard, Cirroco throws every object she was carrying in the opposite direction — and curses herself for throwing her gun without firing its ammo first. It's a good thing she didn't, though, because at the end of her ride she's headed toward the ground too fast.
  • In Larry Niven's novel The Integral Trees, the tree-dwellers occasionally use high pressure "spitter" seedpods (that shoot seeds out once they are broken open on one end) as rocket motors.
  • In Poul Anderson's short novel The Makeshift Rocket (also known as A Bicycle Built for Brew), the hero used a goofball contraption consisting of a spacesuit, several lashed-together crates, and a rocket motor that uses the gas from agitated beer barrels for propulsion.
  • In the Isaac Asimov short story "Marooned Off Vesta", the characters maneuvered by cutting a hole in a water tank and using the escaping water as thrusting mass.
  • The radio operator from Pirx's Tale has a habit of just tossing whatever junk he happens to have in his pockets, without regard for other crewmembers' safety. This does not make him popular.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's novel The Sands of Mars featured an astronaut who once managed to stop and get stuck in the middle of a room. He eventually started throwing clothing the opposite way. That and a very badly timed VIP tour explain why he's stuck in the space boonies during the events of the novel.
  • In the Donald A. Wollheim juvenile "The Secret of Saturn's Rings" not only does young Bruce Rhodes cross the Cassini Division from his wrecked spacecraft to where his father is stranded with nothing but a tank of helium, he finishes up his journey by JUMPING from ring particle to ring particle.
  • In "Equipment", a short story accompanying the novel Shatterpoint, a number of Republic troops find themselves adrift in space after their Drop Ship is shot down trying to reach the planet below. Harassed by enemy fighters, they have to fight back with what they have, and some of the drop troops use their repulsor-driven Jet Packs as propulsion.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the pilot for Come Back Mrs. Noah, Mrs. Noah finds herself adrift in zero gravity and is told that releasing gas will get her moving, which she does by spritzing her perfume sprayer.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "Four to Doomsday", the Fifth Doctor threw a cricket ball in order to move himself away from one ship and toward his TARDIS. He even managed to catch the ball after it bounced off the other ship for a further speed boost.
  • John Crichton maneuvered himself with a pulse rifle on Farscape.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "Target Earth", Shannon is set adrift in space. She uses the purge valve on her spacesuit to bleed air out of her air tanks and propel her back to the shuttle.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause and Effect" the Enterprise is stuck in a time loop, with no engines, on a collision course with another ship. One of the suggestions each time is to vent the shuttle bay to push the ship out of the way. This is the suggestion that ends up working when they finally try it.

  • In The BBC's 1980 sci-fi drama Earthsearch, the crew leave their starship in a shuttle to explore the derelict Challenger II. On returning they discover that Fagor has taken control of their own Challenger and is flying it away. It turns out they have enough fuel to catch up, but only after their air has run out. As if that wasn't bad enough, Fagor then sets out from their ship under its own power to finish them off anyway. Fortunately this provides the answer to both their problems - the crew discover that Fagor's master had upgraded the shuttle with plasma cannons, and once they've destroyed the robot they realise they can turn the shuttle around and accelerate backwards using the plasma cannons' recoil.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Selfish is built around this trope — each player is an astronaut stranded in space after a catastrophic crash, and only the first one to evade the floating wreckage and get back to the escape pod can survive. You have to decide whether to save your limited oxygen supply to keep yourself alive, or vent some of it to get a crucial speed boost past your erstwhile shipmates.

    Video Games 

  • In Freefall, Sam had difficulty maneuvering when he first went into space, but he came up with two solutions involving duct tape. First, Florence gave him a stick for pushing off of surfaces, with duct tape wrapped arpund the ends to cushion any impact and prevent damage to the ship. Later, when he was caught without his stick, he resorted to wrapping duct tape around his hands with the sticky side facing out in order to climb along walls.
    • His robot Helix turned off the electromagnets in his feet and used his coolant fan for thrust. (This left very few options for steering or braking.)
  • Used in Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life, after an accidental ejection from a car. It will take a while.

    Western Animation 
  • Black Dynamite did this in one episode after America's Most Loved Black Man, O.J. Simpson, tricked him into going into space. His rocket exploded and he had to get himself to an abandoned Soviet space station, so he fired his big-ass revolver in the opposite direction.
  • Dogstar: In "Twice the Excitement", Simone is trapped outside and drifting away from the Valiant. Gemma throws a rock that opens the valve on Simone's oxygen tank, propelling her back to the ship.
  • Love, Death & Robots has a gruesome version of this trope. 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.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Perry the Platypus used two aerosol spray cans like this once, to get out of a pit.
  • One episode of Rescue Heroes had one of the characters vent the air from his spacesuit's backup oxygen tank.

    Real Life 
  • One hypothesized way to do this, if you're in a sufficiently curved space time, is to swim! Unfortunately, it is almost unimaginably slow.
  • A famous orbital mechanics problem about this goes: if you're stranded 50 feet behind the space shuttle with only a wrench to maneuver with, how can you get back to the shuttle? If you were in deep space, the correct answer would of course be to throw the wrench away from the shuttle, causing you to drift slowly toward it. The space shuttle is in near-Earth orbit, however, and it turns out that this means the correct answer is to throw the wrench toward the shuttle; this will drop you into a lower (and thus faster) orbit than the one the shuttle is in, allowing you to catch up with it.
  • Might be a good idea to prepare yourself to do a lot of spitting, peeing and possibly amputating.