Universe Today has the article Space Station Astronauts Could Get Stranded in Kibo which has this comment by Vernon Balbert dated June 10, 2008 at 3:18 PM:

Robert Heinlein already covered this in one of his stories. It seems that the individual who was stuck in the middle of a large space simply took off his shorts and threw them in one direction. Newton made sure he went in the opposite direction and eventually he got to where he wanted to be. (Never mind that just as he got to where he could grab onto something the space station manager’s wife came in and saw him in the buff.)

I don't remember reading this story, so I wonder whether this is really a Robert Heinlein story, and if so what is the title and so on?

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    @Valorum I didn't know that the Express used clickbait titles:...................... WATCH: Terrifying moment astronaut gets stuck in mid-air - how would YOU get free? VIDEO footage has revealed the moment an astronaut got stuck in mid-air - and you will not believe what he has to do to get out of the position he is in. By Katrina Turrill PUBLISHED: 13:20, Sun, Oct 22, 2017 | UPDATED: 13:36, Sun, Oct 22, 2017 ....... What terrifying moment? He wasn't stuck. And there's nothing hard to believe about what he did, which was fan the air with his hands to propel himself slowly to the wall. May 4, 2021 at 16:32
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    The Express is nothing but clickbait titles. Alas they're also responsible for world class journalism and regularly win awards for their reportage
    – Valorum
    May 4, 2021 at 16:37
  • universetoday.com/14967/… is also highly misleading: "Space Shuttle Discovery astronaut Mark Kelly mentioned a minor technicality with the new Kibo laboratory during an in flight interview last Friday: It might be too spacious. Surely this is a good thing right? It is, and it isn’t. On the one hand the lab provides a large volume for four astronauts to work in comfortably, but on the other hand, if you get stuck in the middle, you may not be able to reach the sides." May 4, 2021 at 16:43
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    Because he thought they were crap. He called them his "stinkeroos" and he never let them be reprinted. (I've read some in the magazines and I think that while he was basically right, when he was at his peak even his stinkeroos were better than much that was appearing then.)
    – Mark Olson
    May 4, 2021 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


It's from The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke. It's possible Heinlein wrote something similar, but this fits the description even down to the Station Director's wife popping up an an inopportune time:

"When you've been in space as long as I have," said Scott smugly, "you'll know what's wrong. There are plenty of handholds for you to grab in a ship like this. But suppose you want to go over to a blank wall at the other side of a room, and you launch yourself through the air from wherever you're standing. What happens? Well, you've got to break your fall somehow, usually with your hands, unless you can twist round on the way. Incidentally, do you know the commonest complaint a spaceship M.O. has to deal with? It's sprained wrists, and that's why. Anyway, even when you get to your target you'll bounce back unless you can grab hold of something. You might even get stranded in mid-air. I did that once in Space Station Three, in one of the big hangars. The nearest wall was fifteen metres away and I couldn't reach it."

"Couldn't you spit your way towards it?" said Gibson solemnly. "I thought that was the approved way out of the difficulty."

"You try it someday and see how far it gets you. Anyway, it's not hygienic. Do you know what I had to do? It was most embarrassing. I was only wearing shorts and vest, as usual, and I calculated that they had about a hundredth of my mass. If I could throw them away at thirty metres a second, I could reach the wall in about a minute."

"And did you?"

"Yes. But the Director was showing his wife round the Station that afternoon, so now you know why I'm reduced to earning my living on an old hulk like this, working my way from port to port when I'm not running a shady surgery down by the docks.

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    Seems like a good reason to carry a compressed air gun of some description. Or a grapnel and line. May 5, 2021 at 8:20
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    At slow speeds, wouldn't air resistance stop you long before reaching the wall?  (Also, people seem to be much heavier these days, and/or underwear much lighter: mine is only about 1/400th of my mass.)  Wouldn't another option be to exhale strongly (and then inhale facing the other way)?  The lungs hold only ~6g of air, but you could repeat that indefinitely.  Or swimming motions?
    – gidds
    May 5, 2021 at 12:03
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    @gidds People in general are heavier, yes. Astronauts, not so much - they have pretty stringent fitness requirements. That said, my understanding is it's pretty hard to get stranded in the middle of the room because any momentum you got from kicking off the wall isn't just going to go away - you'll most likely keep going until you hit the opposite wall. I saw a video where in order to test this, they had to have 2 other people holding one guy in place in order to stop him from moving, and then they backed off and left him "stranded". (I think he tossed a tennis ball or something to escape) May 5, 2021 at 14:06
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    @gidds Extensive discussion of the options here: space.stackexchange.com/q/18386/16957
    – SusanW
    May 5, 2021 at 17:19
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    @edokan I doubt I could find the exact video again, it was a while ago, but if you just search YouTube for "stranded zero gravity" or the like, you should be able to find multiple similar examples, and they almost always start with at least one other person assisting the stranded person to stop their momentum in the middle of the room. I want to say the one I saw involved Chris Hadfield on the ISS, but that might just be because he made so many other videos, he's one of the more prolific video-producing astronauts. Could've been someone else, but almost certainly on the ISS. May 6, 2021 at 13:29

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