Scientists working on tractor beams to reel in astronauts

In the terrifying event that astronauts finds themselves floating away from their space station, there's not a lot they can do. But some scientists are hoping to develop tractor beams, that old sci-fi mainstay, as a way to make sure they can make it back.

Here's how the beams would work:

In Sinko's original plan, spacecraft carry thrusters with two types of propellant, each responding to a different laser wavelength. To fire a thruster, a laser beam is shone on it, vaporising propellant to create thrust and so push the spacecraft onto a new course. The propellants fire in different directions, so the spacecraft can be steered.

The idea would be that they could shrink these thrusters down and stick them on to space suits. If an astronaut is incapacitated for some reason, they could be controlled from the ship, getting them back to safety without them having to do anything. And also, they'll be saved by tractor beams. Doesn't get much cooler than that.

New Scientist via io9

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