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File:EscapePodSpaceballs.png

A lifeboat... IN SPACE.

Sometimes called a Life Pod, it is a nearly universal trope in Space Opera, and a tried and true part of the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet. When your Cool Starship's Faster Than Light Drive is about to suffer a critical Phlebotinum Overload, or Space Pirates are targeting your exhaust port with Frickin' Laser Beams, it's time to head for the Escape Pods, and take your chances drifting on the endless ocean of space in a tiny, fragile shell with no weapons, rudimentary engines, and in cramped quarters with people you may not like.

Just hope the enemy doesn't decide to Sink the Life Boats, that your Distress Call does not go unanswered, and that the Conveniently Close Planet you're forced to land on as your pod's limited supplies dwindle doesn't turn out to be a Death World.

The Escape Pod can come in handy should a Boarding Party of Scary Dogmatic Aliens announce that All Your Base Are Belong to Us, and you find it prudent not to question them. Similarly, keep it in mind if you ever find yourself on the wrong end of The Mutiny.

If you're ever stuck in a Supervillain Lair thoughtfully equipped with a Self-Destruct Mechanism, you may want to memorize the route to the nearest Escape Pod... just in case. A nearby Escape Pod may also prove convenient if you've been captured by the villain and are making an Air Vent Escape.

In a pinch, Escape Pods can be used for purposes besides evacuation -- they provide a more humane alternative if you feel the urge to throw someone out the airlock, and on rare occasions might even be used to deploy your Space Marines. But in order for a pod to count as an example of this trope, its primary (or at least informed) purpose must be to serve as a science-fictiony life boat.

In Real Life, the International Space Station always has two Soyuz spacecraft docked that can act as "escape pods" in case of emergency (these are also the same ships used to carry crew and supplies to the ISS in the first place). Rockets carrying astronauts also have an eject system that can separate the crew module from the rest of the rocket in case something goes wrong during launch. However, as commonly portrayed in science fiction, the use of escape pods does not always make sense. As writer and game designer Jim Cambias put it,

 Why abandon a spaceship, however shot up or meteor-damaged it may be, just to hang around in a flimsy balloon or cramped pod? You're still on the same course, since no life pod can carry much delta-v, and the life-support problems are considerable. Why not include some kind of pressure balloon to provide temporary airtight containment in a hulled compartment and use the ship's own life-support? That way you get the ship's radiation shielding, power, etc.

If it's a reactor emergency you're worried about, don't eject the crew in pods, EJECT THE REACTOR!

Actually, I realize perfectly well the purpose of life pods: it lets sf writers tell lifeboat stories in space.

Of course, in science fiction, stricken spaceships more often than not blow up like firecrackers -- so trying to get away in an Escape Pod makes enough sense. Other justifications may include facing a Worthy Opponent who can be trusted not to Sink the Life Boats but has no problem utterly destroying your Cool Starship, or avoiding a Reentry Scare if your ship can't survive entering a planet's atmosphere, but your escape pods can.

Examples of Escape Pod include:


Advertising

  • When Volkswagen's New Beetle first appeared, with its compact, rounded, mildly Science Fiction-y shape, it was advertised with billboards that called it an "Escape Pod."


Card Games

  • The Star Wars Customizable Card Game reveals that Grand Moff Tarkin (at least, I think it was Tarkin...) doesn't like it when Imperial officers use escape pods to escape (something he considers an act of cowardice), to put it nicely. I believe it's implied (or outright stated) that he shoots them down. This is based on Tarkin's statement during the Battle of Yavin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

 Imperial officer: We've analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?

Grand Moff Tarkin: Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!


Film -- Animated

  • WALL-E had a scene featuring an escape pod that, for some inexplicable reason, had its own Self-Destruct Mechanism. The film's post-scriptum animation shows that (potentially explosive!) escape pods can also be used as makeshift shelters, and an escape pod plays a role in the related short BURN-E.


Film -- Live Action

  • The 1993 movie Lifepod was essentially the Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat Recycled in Space.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope
    • The movie opens with C3PO and R2D2 fleeing Princess Leia's captured ship in an escape pod along with the blueprints detailing the Death Star's weak spot; Imperial gunners nearly blow them out of the sky before they note there are no actual lifesigns on board the pod. (The fact that they'd shoot down a pod with people on board, but not an empty one, tells the audience something about the Empire...) The robots' escape sets all the events of the original Star Wars trilogy in motion.
    • When the Millenium Falcon is captured by the Death Star, an Imperial officer reports to Darth Vader that the ship's log says that the crew abandoned ship after leaving Mos Eisley and several escape pods are missing. This was a ruse to make the Imperials think the protagonists were no longer on board.
  • In Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise is trapped in the past, and the evil Borg are taking over the ship. Picard reluctantly agrees to destroy the ship to stop the Borg, and, aside from himself and Data, the entire crew flies down to Earth in escape pods with instructions to "stay out of history's way." The crisis is soon averted, and everyone returns to the ship... presumably using Teleporters and Transporters, since it would be odd if the tiny pods could have taken off and made it back to orbit again themselves. Whether scattering future technology across the entire planet in the form of escape pods is a good idea when you're trying to keep history from changing is also never addressed.
    • The Federation had shuttle craft that could break atmosphere pretty much effortlessly, so flying back up to the Enterprise may not have been particularly implausible. Of course, if they did use the pods to get back, this would just confirm that they were initially planning to leave little ships capable of achieving orbit with ease scattered around the Earth of the past...
      • Actually, if the pods were capable of getting back into space on their own, that would serve to tie up the potential loose end of having said little ships scattered all over the planet: Just launch them on auto pilot and have them self-destruct or plow into the nearest star or moon. If not, they probably had other gameplans for disposing of them, given that Starfleet has been shown to do its best to prevent interferences with the timeline, including having an entire agency devoted to preventing and repairing timeline damage.
      • I'm pretty sure that they could have just used the transporters to lock on to all the escape pods and beamed them back after the crisis was averted.
  • In the 2009 Star Trek film, Spock has Kirk thrown into an escape pod and marooned on a Death World. The pod helpfully advises Kirk not to go outside after landing, and wait for rescue -- advice he promptly ignores, of course. Which may be for the best, since when he finally made it to the Starfleet base, they seemed completely unaware that any rescue was needed... Why the computerized escape pod didn't call for help, or why it couldn't have tried landing a bit closer to the base, considering the environment, is not really clear.
    • Worth noting that as soon as Kirk leaves the pod, he gets attacked by the local food chain. He might have been better off just staying in there. It is also possible that the pod stopped trying to contact the base once Kirk left, since there would presumably be no point in calling rescue teams to an empty escape pod.
  • At least two movies have Air Force One equipped with an escape pod. Although the exact details of the planes (there are two that we normally call "Air Force One") are classified, it is extremely unlikely that any of the real planes has one.
  • Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. Joe and Polly use one to escape from Dr. Totenkopf's rocket before it explodes.
  • The Last Starfighter. Xur uses one to flee from the Ko-Dan ship.
  • Alien. The crew plans to use the shuttle to leave the Nostromo, but only Ripley succeeds.
    • The shuttle isn't intended to be an escape pod, though... it's actually a shuttle. (There's only one, and it's not big enough to hold even half the crew.)
  • Starship Troopers. Carmen Ibanez and Zander Barcalow use one to get out of their starship after it's seriously damaged.
  • Lifeforce (1985). Tom Carlsen returns to Earth from the space shuttle Churchill in one.
  • Serenity. The Operative bugs out from an exploding Alliance ship using a one-person version.
  • Airplane! 2. Simon Kurtz (one of the flight officers) takes off (deserting the others in a cowardly manner) because he thinks the Mayflower shuttle is doomed.
  • Spaceballs: Dark Helmet, President Skroob and Colonel Sandurz all have their escape pods stolen by other crew members (and, in one case, a bear) as Spaceball One self-destructs.
    • As an extra bonus, the visual effect for each escape pod launching homages the iconic Star Wars example above.


Literature

  • Life Boats appear on a regular basis in Andre Norton's science fiction stories (where they're sometimes referred to as an "LB"). Oddly, they're often used for purposes other than just escaping from a destroyed ship.
    • In The Time Traders, Ross Murdock fell into one (in a crashed alien ship) while dying of exposure to Arctic conditions. The lifeboat's automatic systems recognized him as an injured intelligent lifeform and tucked him into a bunk full of some sort of healing goo; he came out some hours later feeling fine.
    • Played straight in The Zero Stone. Murdoc Jern is stranded aboard a derelict alien ship and escapes from it using a life boat. He eventually reaches a Conveniently Close Planet.
    • A life boat is used in an unusual manner three times in Uncharted Stars.
      • Murdoc Jern uses a life boat to make a stealth landing on the criminal planet Sororis and later return to his starship in orbit.
      • Murdoc and Eet take a life boat down to an unnamed planet in order to warn some Zacathan archeologists about a Jack (pirate) raid. They return to their starship in orbit with a wounded Zacathan they rescued.
      • Murdoc and Eet use a lifeboat to make a stealth approach to the pirate space station of Waystar and escape again when their mission is complete.
  • Escape pods feature fairly often in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It's an option of last resort. If intact fleeing ships don't tractor them up during the retreat, then they are at the mercy of the victors.
    • In Isard's Revenge, Prince-Admiral Krennel decided to deliver the survivors of a small New Republic force to a neutral world if they swore not to fight him, because he was working on his PR.
  • The young Lucky Starr's parents saved him from the pirate attack that killed them by casting him adrift in a craft that David Starr, Space Ranger out-and-out calls a "lifeboat."
  • In Charles Stross' Singularity Sky, Rachel Mansour grows an Escape Pod in her stateroom aboard the New Republic's flagship, weakening the adjacent hull to allow a rather messy escape.
  • In Deathworld by Harry Harrison, Jason runs from Heavyworlder Kerk who, in the grip of irrational rage, is about to literally tear him apart unless he gets off the ship. The Escape Pod he uses to get away is designed to be idiot proof: initially it declines to do anything but the safest, gentlest maneuvers, making long-term survival against the ship's guns problematical.
  • In Collision With Chronos, Time Battleships have Escape Pods constructed deep within the ship. A foundering time ship suffers ... total existance failure, leaving only the Escape Pods, if they power up their tiny orthophase (reality) generators in time.
  • In Legends of Dune, Xavier Harkonnen's adopted brother commands a Ballista-class battleship is a battle with the Thinking Machines. They manage to drive the machines away, but then the cymeks show up. He decides to accerate ahead of the fleet in a true Leeroy Jenkins style, and, predictably, his Ballista is blown up. He manages to get to an escape pod, but the enemy picks it up first. They torture him for hours until he finally dies.
  • Ciaphas Cain and Jurgen spend several weeks on board one in Death or Glory when the ship they're on has a hull breach and they can't get out of the area before the emergency bulkheads close. They consider it to be rather spacious and well equipped (because there are two of them in a life pod meant to hold fifty).
  • The escape pods of the Lensman universe are small FTL ships in their own right, so getting clear of the space disaster and surviving long enough to reach an inhabited world or be picked up by your side aren't much of an issue, thus getting around Cambias' points made above. They are, however, relatively slow, unarmed except for the personal weapons of their passengers & crew), and unarmoured against anything other than micrometeors and cosmic background radiation. This is problematic because they exist in the context of an enemy (Boskone) who takes no prisoners - except to torture them for information (or worse), or to sell into slavery.
  • The Conquerors Trilogy: Human spacecraft have individual lifepods that can be ejected from the ship when it's about to be destroyed, either by enemy action or activating the Self-Destruct Mechanism to prevent hostiles from getting any useful information from the abandoned ship's computers.
  • Vorkosigan Saga has "bod pods", inflatable, single person, idiot proof life support modules for use by untrained personel in an emergency. Miles really dislikes them, because once you're stuffed inside one, you're stuck waiting helplessly for someone else to come rescue you.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy 'trilogy' covered the subject in this memorable exchange from The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, when the characters find themselves trapped aboard a spaceship on course to crash-dive into the heart of a sun:

 Zaphod Beeblebrox: "Ford, how many escape capsules are there?"

Ford Prefect: "None."

Zaphod: "Did you count them?

Ford: "Twice."

  • Ships in Honor Harrington carry escape pods which can be used to escape a ship that has suffered damage. However they are generally only provided for crew stationed close to the hull of the ship since under most circumstances crew further inside will either not have time to evacuate at all (if the reactors explode) or will have time to make an orderly evacuation using the ship's auxiliary small craft.


Live Action TV

  • Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode in which rough-around-the-edges engineer Tucker and an alien Well, Excuse Me, Princess! were trapped in a cramped escape pod together after fleeing some evil aliens.
    • The mirror Enterprise NX01 also had life pods, not that they did the crew much good when they were used (almost all were destroyed by an energy web that was trapping the ship to begin with).
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: During the war with the Dominion, a Big Bad orders her Dragon not to Sink the Life Boats from a destroyed Federation ship, so that the escape pods can make it home and spread fear of the Dominion.
  • Red Dwarf plays with this one. The episode "Rimmerworld" features Rimmer using his crewmates to jump into an escape pod behind a Simulant which is attempting to attack them. The other crew members use another method of escape and survive. Rimmer uses the escape pod and, as it's faster than the ship he was flying on, ends up falling into a wormhole.
    • In numerous episodes, the smaller exploration craft Blue Midget and Starbug are used as escape pods when the Dwarf itself is in danger. Just to add to the confusion, it's implied in one episode that Starbug vessels have their own escape pods.
    • Other episodes use the arrival of an escape pod as a plot point, where they usually contain an important character - except for the one that turned out be a smegging garbage pod.
  • Doctor Who episode "42" had Martha stuck in an escape pod.
  • Stargate SG-1 featured these on a number of occasions. Goa'uld escape pods look like ancient Egyptian sarcophagi... and are just as cramped. On one occasion, an escape pod was used by a character to get away from a murderous Big Bad who was pursuing him on a small ship; on another, two characters hid in escape pods without launching them to survive when their ship's hull got punctured.
  • The Firefly-class ships are equipped with two shuttles that can be used to abandon the ship (or as an alcove for the on-board Companion). In the episode "Out of Gas" the whole team barring Mal use them to escape the Serenity after the engine breaks beyond repair. They then return to meet whatever end together with their captain.
  • In Babylon 5, Starfury cockpits can be ejected to serve as escape pods. The odds of being picked up aren't all that high. Other human and alien craft probably have similar mechanisms.
    • It is mentioned that various warships carry escape pods, but it is very rare for a ship's crew to actually have a chance to use them in battle. Once a ship's defenses are penetrated, it is not common to have them hammered into burning hulks within seconds, given the amounts of firepower that get thrown around in space combat.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 had Joel finally escape the Satellite of Love in a conveniently forgotten one of these. It was hidden in a box of hamdingers, and nobody likes hamdingers. It's name? The "Deus Ex Machina."


Video Games

  • Allegiance, a multiplayer Space Sim / Real Time Strategy game from Microsoft, has escape pods fill an essential role in gameplay. Whenever a pilot's ship is destroyed, they are left at that spot in a small, slow, fragile, unarmed escape pod and must then make it to the nearest base or friendly ship before their oxygen runs out. If this pod is shot and destroyed by the enemy, the player is immediately respawned back at base, and can get a new ship and re-join the action; thus the enemy is discouraged from Sinking The Life Boats, and getting shot down actually takes you out of the action for some time, without taking you out of the game.
  • Eve Online has the capsules, which function as escape pods. However, they do have warp drives (albeit weak ones) and their main purpose is not to function as escape pods, but rather as the control system (similar to the entry plugs in Neon Genesis Evangelion). Both normal and capsuleer-controlled spacecraft also have[1] escape pods for the crew; however, escape pods deep within a ship can only separate as the ship falls apart.
  • Reaching an escape pod is the goal of many of the crewmen in System Shock 2. When the player finally reaches a pod himself rather than use it to escape, he crashes it into The Many to take it out from the inside.
    • Reaching the escape pods is also one of the goals the player pursues in the original System Shock... although this plan doesn't work out too well.
  • Perfect Dark shows Air Force One with an escape pod (like a couple film examples above).
  • Final Fantasy VII... Even though it's the first rocket to send a human into space, they designed it with an escape pod.
  • Interactive Fiction classic Planetfall starts with a sequence where you have to get into the escape pod.
  • The white chamber has one at the epilogue.
  • The opening level of Halo ends with you escaping the Pillar of Autumn on the last "lifeboat."
  • In the Star Wars Battlefront spin-off Elite Squadron, escape pods play a fairly significant role. They can be used for quick deployment of troops from capital ships, or simply to escape if the ship's core is destroyed.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Maria launched Shadow from the ARK aboard an escape pod. Another one is used by Eggman in an almost-successful attempt to kill the title character.
    • Dr. Eggman's mech designs usually incorporate a small, round ship as an escape pod.
  • Shows up early in Star Ocean 3.
  • The opening chapter screen in Marathon shows you hurtling toward the eponymous colony ship in an escape pod. Where the pod comes from is, literally, All There in the Manual. (It's from a shuttle whose life support was compromised.)
  • In Escape Velocity under strict play, the escape pods you can purchase at outfitters are the only way to avoid being Killed Off for Real if your ship starts to break up. Oh, and you'll have to issue the escape command manually... unless you buy the auto-eject feature for an additional fee.
  • Gratuitous Space Battles has Escape Pods: in the wake of a pitched battle there will be a sad stream of pods fleeing from the de-orbiting hulks that used to be proud battlewagons.
  • Star Wars:Knights of the Old Republic kicks off with the player character making his/her way to the escape pods when the ship s/he serves on comes under Sith attack.
  • Mass Effect 2, by contrast, kicks off with the player character failing to make it to an escape pod in time.
  • Oolite has purchasable Escape Pods that essentially function as an extra life; when you use one, you're automatically transported back to the system station, with a shiny new vessel that's identical to the one you just lost. Other ships will also deploy them sometimes; you can pick them up with your cargo scoop and deliver the passengers to a station for bounty or insurance money (or you could just shoot them down).
  • In Nexus the Jupiter Incident, any ship that is damaged beyond a certain point is considered lost, at which point it will start launching escape pods. If it is a ship from the player's fleet, then the percentage of escape pods that are collected determines if the player keeps the same experienced crew for the new ship. It is assumed that the captain always survives. If the ship is destroyed outright, then no escape pods are launched.
  • Used several times in Space Quest, being as the game's a send-up of sci-fi tropes. The first thing you have to go is get Roger the hell off the Arcada without getting vaped by the Sariens. Later, he steals their escape pod after setting the MacGuffin to blow. Second game has him stealing one to escape Vohaul's space station. A Have a Nice Death in the fifth one is him being expelled from Star Con Academy via escape pod.
  • While only referenced in normal gameplay, Starcraft II has the Hercules dropship equipped with those. This allows the cargo to survive the transport's destruction, although the units still take some damage.
  • The mining ship 'Ishimura' in Dead Space has several, not that they helped, in fact one of them led to an entire military ship being destroyed.
  • Dead Space 2: not content with being fired on a rocket chair and falling though space Isaac later ejects himself from The Ishimura and crashes back into the sprawl.
  • Unreal and Unreal II the Awakening feature escape pods in the ending sequences. The first is to escape from a planet of doom, the second is to escape a ship about to crash into a star.
  • The "Vaus" from Arkanoid is an escape craft, though it has more mobility than your standard escape pod.
  • Near the climax of Bulletstorm you need to make use of an Escape Pod
  • Vega Strike has escape pods equipped with FTL drives, but with such a weak reactor and thrusters that running to a nearby base or ship is pain anyway. There are also Rescue missions where the player should collect with Tractor Beam a NPC pod asaulted by vengeful opponents and deliver the pilot to a nearby planet.
  • In Star Control 2 your Precursor ship gets a scape pod when you've freed the Chmmr and you've the Utwig Bomb, the Talking Pet, and know where's the Ur-Quan Sa-Matra. Justified, given your ship has been transformed by the Chmmr, literally speaking, in a bomb with thrusters. And one that can give a HUGE bang.


Tabletop Games

  • Surprisingly for such a Crapsack Galaxy, Imperial Navy ships in Warhammer 40000 do have escape pods. They're mainly used to abandon ships that have suffered catastrophic rector damage and are about to explode in a spectacular ball of fiery death.
    • They're referred to as "Saviour pods".
    • Also keep in mind that in the Warhammer 40K universe, an exploding ship may (And probably will) result in the creation of a temporary, gigantic rift in the fabric of space-time which leads to hell. Being very far away at that point would be very wise.
  • Ships in Traveller sometimes had Life Boats.
    • One Double Adventure (Marooned and Marooned Alone) had the PCs landing on a planet using them after escaping from a passenger liner in orbit.
    • The FASA adventure Action Aboard: Adventures on the King Richard had a section on how they would be used to evacuate passengers in the event of a disaster.
  • Spelljammer has "Wreckboat", but a dedicated escape craft is luxury, since its engine is the same as on ships proper, where it's the most expensive part. So usually if a ship has any launches to use as shuttles, they'll double as lifeboats.
  • Star Fleet Battles Captain's module K1 Fast Patrol Ships. When Fast Patrol ships are about to be destroyed, their crew eject in self-contained survival pods that broadcast a homing signal.
  • Star Frontiers module SF0 Crash on Volturnus. After their ship is captured by the Star Devil's pirates, the PCs abandon ship in a lifeboat and use it to land on the planet Volturnus.
  • Starblazer Adventures, based on the 1980's British science fiction Comic Book. Small ships such as fighters had ejection seats, while larger ships had escape pods.


Web Comics


Western Animation


Real Life

  • Two Soyuz spacecraft (the same ships used to carry crew and supplies to the ISS in the first place) are always docked at the International Space Station and can function as escape pods in case of an emergency. Each one can hold three crew members. On two occasions, the crew took refuge in these ships when danger from space debris loomed. Originally NASA planned to build a dedicated escape vehicle capable of taking the whole crew, the X-38, but - predictably - this was cancelled after early tests.
  • Rockets carrying astronauts also have an eject system that can separate the crew module from the rest of the rocket in case something goes wrong during launch.
  • In the Apollo 13 incident, the Lunar Module essentially functioned as a makeshift escape pod for much of the flight.
  • After the accidents of the space shuttle Challenger and later the Columbia there were plans to equip the remaining shuttles with escape pods or even the ability to eject the entire cabin. However those plans were abandoned.
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