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What would happen if an astronaut really floats off into space

In the film Gravity, which opens this month, two astronauts are on a spacewalk when an accident hurtles them into the void. So what would actually happen if you went, in NASA's terminology, "overboard"?

NASA requires spacewalking astronauts to use tethers (and sometimes additional anchors). But should those fail, you'd float off according to whatever forces were acting on you when you broke loose. You'd definitely be weightless. You'd possibly be spinning. In space, no kicking and flailing can change your fate. And your fate could be horrible. At the right angle and velocity, you might even fall back into Earth's atmosphere and burn up. That's why NASA has protocols that it drills into astronauts for such situations. You would be wearing your emergency jetpack, called SAFER, which would automatically counter any tumbling to stabilize you. Then NASA's plan dictates that you take manual control and fly back to safety.

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