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Rocketless Reentry

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Drop Pod? Who needs a Drop Pod when you have Powered Armor?
There are many ways to get groundside from orbit. Most people use a shuttle, armed or not. Space Marines and other Super Soldiers might even use Drop Pods. The seriously badass (or seriously desperate) dispense with the pod entirely, put on a spacesuit, strap on a heat shield (and hopefully a parachute), and jump for it. If it's a premade kit rather than a last-minute improvisation it overlaps with Escape Pod.

Compare Reentry Scare and contrast Frictionless Reentry and It's Raining Men.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Gundam franchise has a running tradition of the heroes getting into battles while entering the atmosphere; nine times out of ten, The Hero will be caught outside his Cool Starship and has to improvise a safe re-entry.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Gundam pulls a sheet of heat-proof plastic out of a hidden compartment in its crotch; this became the subject of much fan-mockery (nicknaming it "magic Saran Wrap"). The movie changes this to having the crotch compartment emit coolant.
    • Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: The AEUG and Titans exhibit real forethought and equip their mecha with ballute packs just in case they can't get back to a ship in time. Kamille kills Kakricon by damaging his ballute pack, which just adds another name to the Cycle of Revenge going on between him and Jerid.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ: Puru gets caught outside the Argama, so Judau flies out with the Zeta Gundam and uses its waverider mode as a re-entry shield. Unfortunately, Puru's Qubeley's massive Shoulders of Doom cause drag and make it hard for Judau to fly straight, so Puru blasts them off using her Attack Drones.
      • As a bonus Mythology Gag, the three episodes mentioned above all have the same title.
    • Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: Kincade gets damaged in Earth orbit and is propelled toward the planet. He activates his mech's beam shields in a desperate attempt to survive re-entry. It works, just barely, though he's still hospitalized for a month or two afterward.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz: Wing Zero and Altron still continue to fight as they enter the atmosphere. Despite Wing Zero's wings being able to be used as heat shields, it took too much damage trying to readjust Altron's posture so it doesn't burn to a crisp, which ultimately resulted in Zero's destruction.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Kira grabs a piece of spaceship debris left from the battle and uses it as a heat shield. This keeps him alive barely long enough for the Archangel, which, unlike his Strike Gundam, is designed for reentry, to maneuver beneath him and allow him to land on top of its hull. Kira only barely survives the experience, needing emergency medical attention once they've landed.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: An enemy pilot deliberately tries to keep the Barbatos from returning to the shuttle in the hopes of destroying it; Mikazuki responds by killing the pilot, then surfing his mobile suit into the atmosphere as an improvised heat shield.
  • During the final episode of Kill la Kill, Ryuuko returns to Earth with no protection other than Senketsu who is incinerated during reentry.

    Comic Books 
  • Atomic Robo: In The Ghost of Station X, Robo's experimental plane turned spacecraft is destroyed and he uses the largest piece as an improvised heat shield. Being a robot helps him survive long enough for the Action Scientists to catch him with the launch assist plane.
  • Mike Baron's run of Deadman stories begins with Boston brooding on a satellite way above the Earthand leaping off of it, diving through the atmosphere, and landing into an airplane on a drug-run. Obviously, Deadman doesn't have to worry about the safety of this maneuver.
  • Judge Dredd: In the "Titan" arc, the Titan prison colony for corrupt ex-Judges is apparently taken over by the inmates after Mega City One loses contact. Judge Dredd and a strike team go there to investigate, landing on the moon in a free fall with only their armored space suits to protect them. Dredd almost burns up during reentry because he nearly fainted.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Paula invents a type of coating/exoskeleton type thing that allows Wonder Woman and the Holliday Girls to drop though an atmosphere from space without burning or being harmed.

    Comic Strips 
  • FoxTrot: Jason suggests this as a new Olympic sport, with the diver putting on a spacesuit and jumping off the diving board located at the very edge of Earth's atmosphere, burning up entirely on reentry.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the opening of Heavy Metal, an astronaut exits the space shuttle in a 1959 Corvette and descends to Earth. Strangely, he only deploys a parachute after he lands.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A variation occurs in Dark Star: After the eponymous spaceship is destroyed, Lt. Doolittle uses a surfboard-shaped piece of debris to "surf" down towards an unstable planet, dying as a falling star.
  • Kung Fu Hustle has a Toon Physics and Supernatural Martial Arts variant: the Beast sends Sing high enough in the sky to produce friction when the latter descends and unleashes Buddha's Palm on him. It burns Sing's shirt, but not his pants.
  • Star Trek
    • The original cut of Star Trek: Generations started out with a retired Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov space diving just because they're bored.
    • In Star Trek (2009), Kirk and Sulu drop from orbit onto the Narada's drill to disable it, but fail to stop Vulcan's destruction.

  • In Allen Steele's Orbital Decay, it's mentioned early on that the space station has some personal heat shields, although even the manufacturer admits that it's more likely to kill you than save you. At the end, a near-suicidal Popeye takes one and bails out.
  • In Tobias Buckell's Sly Mongoose, Pepper flees a zombie-infested ship with a spacesuit, a handmade heat shield taken from a zombie, and a hand rocket. He discovers too late that a parachute wasn't included in the kit. If he weren't a cyborg killing machine the landing would have been very fatal.
  • In Paul Preuss' "Starfire" the astronaut Travis Hill uses a personal re-entry system to avoid a high dose of radiation from a solar flare.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7. In "Deliverence", a tiny spacecraft is spinning out of control down to a planet, so the crew eject in two unpowered survival modules. Having witnessed the incident, the crew of the Liberator go down to look for them.
    Gan: Do you know exactly what we're looking for? Because I don't think I've ever seen an impact life capsule.
    Jenna: They're bullet-shaped, built to be energy absorbing. Theoretically they could free fall from the edge of the atmosphere onto solid rock without even bruising the people inside.
    Cally: Is there a life-support system?
    Jenna: Basic respirator, that's about all.
  • In the final episode of Come Back Mrs. Noah, The Plan is to lower the orbit of the runaway Space Station into the atmosphere so the crew can jump out wearing a heli-glidette. This leads to Mrs. Noah training how to use the device by jumping up and down on a trampoline in a wind tunnel, while wearing a silly silver costume and pulling the starter cord between her legs to start the engine. On live television.
  • Doctor Who
    • In "The Name of the Doctor" the Doctor and Clara get to the planet Trenzalore by orbiting it, then turning off the TARDIS engines and letting gravity take its course.
    • The Doctor does an accidental version in "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" when a spaceship disintegrates around him, and he has to get into a spacesuit while simultaneously falling to the Earth. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Lexx: Kai has been dramatically altered after his death and so can de-orbit onto the planet the hard way. The thing is, he has to aim carefully otherwise some of his subsystems could reorient causing... problems.
  • V (1983). Mike Donovan and Martin are fugitives inside the Visitor spacecraft when Martin finds a means of escape. Because their spacecraft spend a lot of time parked in the atmosphere, automatic-deploying parachutes were stashed on the lower decks as an emergency escape system. It so happens that Donovan had recently mentioned he had a fear of parachuting after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War. Martin ends up shoving Donovan down the escape chute first just to make sure he jumps.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Extreme Risk", B'Elanna Torres is shown doing orbital skydiving from 300 kilometers up, in a thermal suit covered in tiny tiles like a walking space shuttle (before the Proscenium Reveal showing she's actually in a holodeck simulation).

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: Drop pods are used to deploy Battlemechs from orbiting dropships. They consist of a cocoon with parachutes that slow the mech down to a safe speed and keep it upright. Most mechwarriors hate using them because it's tough and risky: there's a strong chance that something will go wrong and result in the mech being blown off course or landing badly. But when conditions make it impossible to land a dropship, it's still done.
  • Classic Traveller magazine The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #11 article "The Atmospheric Re-entry Kit". The title device is a foamed ablative shield that can be used by a single person to achieve re-entry into a planetary atmosphere and land safely. It includes a de-orbit thruster, a parachute and a sighting device/computer that computes the correct re-entry angle and thruster usage.

    Video Games 
  • In Crysis 3, Prophet survives falling through the atmosphere with nothing but his armor and gets right back up with nary a scratch.
  • This is frequent in the Halo series.
    • Set up, but then quickly subverted in Halo 2. After Riding the Bomb into a Covenant carrier, Chief shoves off the bomb and falls to Earth as the ship explodes; only for Commander Keyes to maneuver her ship into his path and "catch" him.
      Johnson: For a brick, he flew pretty good.
    • In Halo 3, Chief has to make an impromptu evacuation from a landing ship. He leaps out and falls from low orbit, using a door as a drag shield, and lands stunned for some hours, but still alive. Johnson finds him and lampshades Chief's tendency to keep doing this.
      Johnson: Crazy fool, why do you always jump? One of these days you're gonna land on something as stubborn as you are!
    • In Halo: Reach, the protagonist makes a fall from orbit (with the aid of a re-entry pack) after their escape ship has its thrusters too damaged for flight.
      Jorge: Well, I've got good news and bad news. [...] The only way off this slag heap is gravity.
      Six: And the good news?
      Jorge: That was the good news.
    • Master Chief makes one more drop from orbit in Halo 4 after his ship falls apart before he can reach the escape pods. Fortunately this time he has small thrusters on his suit he can use to slow his fall a bit.
    • Halo 5: Guardians opens with Fireteam Osiris leaping out a dropship from low orbit, falling until they land in an enemy filled valley, and promptly racking up a huge kill-count. Their suits do have thrusters, though.
  • Commander Shepard rides a piece of debris down in the very beginning of Mass Effect 2 after the destruction of the Normandy. Shep doesn't survive, however, and has to be revived by being literally reassembled from bits and pieces in a Cerberus lab.
  • Section 8 is a FPS which utilizes this constantly — your character will 'burn in' instead of respawning, which means they get shot out fast enough to hit the ground in ten seconds from a dropship at 15000 feet, allowing you to drop anywhere on the game map. Naturally, there is the possibility of enemy interference while burning in (from AA guns). There are also no parachutes, though you may brake and slow your descent anyway. If you don't, you won't have control over your Player Character, so they'll just go straight downward from the chosen burn-in point until they hit the ground, and take an extra second to ready themselves from hitting the ground at 500 feet a second by hitting the ground on impact with both hands and getting up. They wear particularly cool Powered Armor, if you were wondering how one could survive that.
  • In the intro cutscene of Three Dirty Dwarves, the dwarves meteor down onto Earth, crashing down into a sporting goods shop.
  • In the end of Tribes: Vengeance, Julia is stranded on the Big Bad's spaceship as it makes an uncontrolled reentry and, naturally, starts falling apart. Being the badass she is, however, she surfs the falling debris all the way to the surface, jumping off to the next one just as the piece she's currently on burns up.
  • In older versions of Kerbal Space Program, before reentry heating was implemented, it was possible for a kerbal without a spacecraft to survive reentry (but the impact was usually fatal). It's still possible if the kerbal is slowed down by a couple hundred m/s before they hit the atmosphere (and use their personal jetpack to keep their reentry speed from getting too high); this was made considerably easier after an update added personal parachutes (before then, the only way to reliably survive impact was to splash down in the water and use the jetpack to reduce the kerbal's vertical speed before impact, and the braking needed to avoid burning up in the atmosphere usually left too little EVA fuel to appreciably soften the landing). There are also mods that give escape pods similar to the ones described in the Real Life section.
  • The end cutscene of Metal Wolf Chaos involves President Action Michael Wilson blowing up a space station and surfing down to Earth through the wreckage and the atmosphere using a piece of debris. His former Vice President and Arch-Enemy Richard Hawk is also caught in the explosion, but refuses Michael's aid and hence burns up on re-entry. A small scare is offered due to radio silence during the most intensive part of re-entry, but at this point it's pretty safe to say the player should have no questions as to whether or not the president survives (he does).

    Web Comics 
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: In the finale of "Punch Dracula", Doc grabs Dracula and jumps off the moon hard enough to take them both on a collision course with Earth. But "Dracula" turns out to be just be a robotic duplicate. So Doc uses the robo-Dracula as a heat shield and safely surfs it down to Earth's surface.
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship: One comic has an astronaut fall during a spacewalk. Reentry burns him down to a single, minuscule ash, which two children mistake for the first snowflake of winter.
  • In A Miracle of Science, after their ship is destroyed, Ben and Caprice have to enter Mars's atmosphere with nothing but Caprice's Vector Air Shield technology, which she uses to create wings of fire. There were several much easier ways of slowing down safely, but Caprice was showing off a bit to impress Ben.
  • In the Star Trek parody Stone Trek, the transporter is simply a hole that opens in the transporter pad, dropping the away team onto the planet surface.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: Partway through Breaker of Infinities, the Discordance of the Demiurges is lifted into the Rayuban orbit to save the civilians from the power they're unleashing and allow Solomon David to go all-out. That battle ends when Jagganoth tears the island they're standing on into pieces, sending all the combatants including Allison plummeting to the planet below. Being Demiurges, they all survive and get treated to the sight of Jagganoth leaping down after them, from orbit, while carrying Mammon's severed head.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: At the end of "Be Afraid of the Dark", the space shuttle that the Tennysons are using to get back to Earth breaks apart in reentry thanks to damage it sustained during the climactic battle. Luckily for them, Cannonbolt can survive up to twice the heat of reentry, and is able to cushion Gwen and Max when he lands.

    Real Life 
  • Means of accomplishing this, such as the MOOSE and Paracone concepts, have been developed, though none have ever been adopted for actual use.
  • James Nicoll once proposed "MERE" (Minimally Equipped Re-Entry: go from orbit to ground with only a space suit and a heat shield) as a way of monetising space. He was sure that the extreme sports crowd would jump st the chance to spend a lot of money to risk their lives somewhere exotic.


Video Example(s):


Cannonbolt as an escape pod

With the space shuttle breaking apart around him, Ben uses Cannonbolt to shield himself, Gwen, and Max as they fall back to Earth.

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Main / RocketlessReentry

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