In the current world, people wear life jackets on small boats, and life-boats are present on ocean liners. Similarly on airlines, they brief passengers about life jackets are under the seats, and air-masks dropping from the roof above. These are all due to the inherent risks of the means of transport.

Along with this safety equipment, there are also often phrases and checklists which help people remember what to do. Some examples are:

  • In case of a fire: Stop Drop Roll.
  • In first aid, they teach you checklists of things to look for, such as "ABC": Airway, Breathing, CPR. Or "CLAP": Control, Look (for hazards), Assess, Prioritise
  • In hiking/outdoor: injuries, shelter, communication, water, food is a fairly common order to help prioritise what you should focus on.

So I'm after the sorts of acronyms and sane priorities would exist in a space-faring environment. What would an astronaut focus on first?

In particular, I'm looking for the list of priorities that a space-pilot flying a courier between colonies would be expected to know. He probably learned it at pilot's school when he was in his 20's, and has a refresher course every year or two to ensure he knows latest procedure.

The list I've come up with of things that should probably be included are:

  1. Integrity. If a space-suit or vehicle is compromised, a space-traveller can die in seconds.
  2. Injury. Even if the suit is not breached, a blunt trauma could cause injuries that may lead to death. Assuming an area with breathable atmosphere is found, time should be taken to deal with life-threatening injuries.
  3. Atmospherics. If the rebreather/oxygenator/whatever filters the air is not working, a space traveller can die in hours.
  4. Communication. Rescue will take a long time (at least a few days), but a human can survive thirst etc. for several days. The time taken to initiate communications is likely not significant. (Eg activating a radio beacon) but could be if there are serious
  5. Engineering. Without the heat generated by a space-ships reactor systems, and without proper heat/cooling, a spaceship is likely to become unlivable within days.
  6. Supplies. After help is on the way, you can focus on water and then food.

Things I'm looking for

  • Anything missing or extra in the above list that is realistic for near-reality space travel
  • Sane priorities (eg should the space traveler focus on heat/cooling before communication?)
  • Nice acronyms or are easy to remember - as would be taught in the equivalent of a first-aid refresher course.

Extra information on the world so you know what sort of things may go wrong:

In the near future (~100 years), space travel is common. Vehicles fly at FTL speeds, but the shielding and energy to do so is virtually the only departure from known physics. FTL still takes time, being limited to somewhere near 10,000 light speed range. This allows voyages to Alpha Centuri in 7 hours, Epsilon Indi in 21 hours, and to Betelgeuse takes 46 days. Crossing the Milky Way would take somewhere like 34 years. So it's fast enough that in colonised parts of the galaxy, it is similar to international aircraft travel, Further out, it is slow enough to compare to travel by ship. Failures in FTL drives result in vehicles stranded in real physical space, often with mechanical issues from near-instantaneous deceleration. There are trained space-rescue-response teams at many larger colonies. Response time is one or two hours-to-departure (and then however long it takes to get to the "crash" site).

Space suits are less bulky and more robust compared to current ones because materials science has improved. While tough, they can still be cut and torn. They come in several categories similar to how life jackets are rated for difference scenarios. By law, space craft have to carry space suits/life preservers depending on the vehicles intended use: eg a cargo tug in a space-port (and indeed, most small craft) would have the operator wearing a light-duty space suit capable of sustaining life for 2-3 hours. A long-range exploration craft would require longer-term suits (life for 3-4 days) easily accessible. Passenger vehicles carry escape pods that can sustain life for two-three weeks.

There are no "magic" devices, so no self-healing materials or nanobots. AI's are an extension of current technology (eg you can program them for specific tasks, but no general purpose AI's). Tools in common use are normal physical tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches. Things like plasma-screwdrivers and weld-all-gismo's do not exist, however duct tape now has stronger cloth and glue....

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    $\begingroup$ What existing NASA acronyms have you found? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 19, 2018 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ I want to give this a good answer, since it is a fascinating question, but I'm finding that I have to make up what sort of catastrophes are most common in your world, then working out a safety procedure for them. In other words, the question is requiring me to make things up about your world, which is generally the criteria for a 'primarily opinion based' question. I'd suggest either a. a separate question about the most common space catastrophes or b. you give us a list of catastrophes and ask us to come up with the best solutions. +1 but a close vote, please give this an edit. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Aug 20, 2018 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ I'm working on something.... A for air, something to breathe right now. R for rays, the sun's rays in vaccuum will burn you badly and quickly. G for g forces, are you under thrust/rotating and what hazards does that present. H for hamburgers, cos ya gotta eat. That gives you "ARGH". $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2018 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'd just like to point out that the acronym obsession is pretty much an American-only thing. I speak multiple other languages, and I've never seen anything similar to these various acronyms. $\endgroup$
    – Davor
    Aug 20, 2018 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ @sdfgeoff It is my opinion, that common space catastrophes in chemical-rocket, LEO operations have little to do with FLT catastrophes. The question that threw me over the edge, how does deceleration from FTL in the case of engine failure not instantly pulverize the ship and occupants during deceleration? $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Aug 20, 2018 at 14:37

5 Answers 5


Really, the question is "What's going to kill you if you don't have it", in order of "How QUICKLY will you die if you don't have it." - Morris The Cat, in comments

How kind of you to capitalize a word for me. Let's pick one up for dealing with an alien life form. That's required safety training, right?

Quarantine - Ensure the alien life form cannot infect the habitation regions of your spaceship. So many bad movies start by forgetting to quarantine!

Uniqueness - Find a few unique attributes of the creature. Maybe they're green, or maybe they have six fingers on their right hand (prepare to die). You're looking for quick and dirty features you can use in the next step.

Identify - Go dust off the "alien identification manual," and see if any of the unique features show up there. This will provide a list of additional features you should look for to get a positive identification.

Check - Check the latest political concords documents, to see if this is a species which may be friendly, or which may eat your liver (with fava beans). Some species change status in these documents based on who is at war with whom.

Kill - Kill all class I and class II dangerous species. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200

Language - Try to instigate communication using one or more standard galactic tongues, based on the specific life form identified.

Y - If the life form is sentient: "Why are you here?"

If you find yourself dealing with alien lifeforms, you must act QUICKLY!


Your ship has been damaged by enemy fire. You are injured and hurting, so it should be easy to remember the universal acronym:


A - Air - Air is the most precious item in space. Without air, you are dead in minutes. Check your oxygen/air supply so you know how much time you have to work with. Check the relevant hoses & valves to make sure everything is in the safest mode - e.g., any connections to possible damaged areas of the ship should be closed, output from the tanks adjusted to the lowest safe level in order to make the air last as long possible.

C - Communications - Help will be on the way, but only if they know you are hurt and and know where to find you. Activate your emergency beacon if it was not activated automatically. Set your main radio to the standard emergency channel and broadcast an S.O.S.S. (Save Our Space Ship) together with your coordinates, in case the emergency beacon didn't get the message through. Set your computer to alert you to any incoming transmissions.

H - Hull Integrity - Check your ship's hull integrity. Automatic bulkheads should have sealed off each section, but now you need to verify that and check damage control systems to determine what areas are damaged and how severe the damage is. Is there a possibility of restarting the engines? Can the ship be safely towed with a tractor beam or will need you need to leave the ship as part of the rescue process?

E - Energy - Survival for a day is easy, provided you have enough air and an intact section of the ship. Beyond that, you will need energy for communications and life support. Assess the status of the reactors (likely offline for safety, but it may be possible to bring them back online if the surrounding areas are intact), fuel cells (which are also dependent on your limited oxygen supply) and batteries.

S - Supplies - The last thing you need is food and water. Mostly water - you can easily survive a few days without food. But if your engines are busted and your communications are offline then rescue will be based on the last automated location signal before you came out of FTL, so there will be large areas to be searched and it could take weeks to be rescued. If the W.C. (that's Water Cycler) is still working then you will be OK for water, but if it is not then careful conservation will be required.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Really, the question is "What's going to kill you if you don't have it", in order of "How QUICKLY will you die if you don't have it." $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2018 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ @MorrisTheCat ACHES is in that sequence, with the exception of C. The idea is to get the MOST important (A) done, let the universe know you need help and then work on HES. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2018 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like there should be another one after this called PAINS $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2018 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieBrace I was thinking of that, but haven't gotten around to it... $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2018 at 13:58


Modern aviation has had a number of fatal accidents where important emergency steps were omitted, causing a far worse outcome. Simulator studies have backed this up, showing a high error rate in memory recall during stress.

As a result, the modern thinking is not to rely on memory items. The additional time it takes to read a checklist is far better than missing a critical item.

For the most part, computerized checklists, which prioritize multiple faults, automatically show the relevant action items, and remove items when finished, are the replacement for memory.

If you look at a modern airliner, like an Airbus, the only memory items are for cabin depressurization (immediately don oxygen mask then read the checklist) and loss of brakes.

So if it won't kill you in 10 seconds, there won't be a acronym or something you recall. You simply obtain and follow the checklist.

So for complex procedures, the future pilot will pull out their flight tablet and run the "Loss of Power in Interstellar Space" wizard, which will ask questions as necessary, interface with the ship's systems to see if there's any fuel left or the state of the reactor, for example, automatically calculate how much oxygen remains, and prompt them through the correct procedures.

  • $\begingroup$ So ECO? Energy to power the computer, then ask the COmputer? $\endgroup$
    – DonQuiKong
    Aug 20, 2018 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ On an Airbus, an engine out at V1 doesn't have memory items? Holy crap. I'm amazed. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Aug 20, 2018 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveV. Once at (technically, past) $V_1$, you're committed to flight anyway, so the memory item there would be continue takeoff, which is what $V_1$ is all about. Anything other than continuing would be unsafe, since you no longer have sufficient runway to stop on the runway (and even before $V_1$, it can be risky). Once you are airborne and at a safe altitude, then you pull out the engine failure checklist and work it, while coordinating with ATC (which might very well direct you to a holding pattern until you figure out the best course of action, which might be to return and land). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 20, 2018 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ It's probably appropriate in such a situation to also tell ATC immediately that you've lost an engine, so they know that your rate of climb will be reduced, but a single-engine-out is not a critical failure on a modern airliner. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 20, 2018 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @manassehkatz On the other hand, you'll probably stop Aviating pretty quickly if that aircraft off your tail isn't prepared for your reduced climb performance; even if they are able to climb over you, that doesn't mean you won't have to deal with a part of their wake turbulence, for one. Don't worry; I rehearse the emergency checklist before beginning the takeoff roll in light GA, and even there, announce intentions on radio is pretty much at the bottom of the list. Aviate/Navigate/Communicate is a good rule of thumb, but sometimes, Communicate can greatly ease the burden of Aviate/Navigate. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 20, 2018 at 18:37

This checklist is real, we use it during preflight when we're evaluating ourselves for fitness to fly.

If I can answer no to all of the following, then IMSAFE to fly.

  • Illness - Am I affected by any illnesses that would prevent me from safely flying?
  • Medication - Medications can have surprising effects in a low-oxygen environment. Have I taken any recently?
  • Stress - Some amount of stress is necessary and perhaps even desirable, but too much is unsafe. Am I too stressed to fly?
  • Alcohol - "Wow, those alliance marines on Purgatory sure know how to rage. I'll never look at a shotgun the same way again." Is it less than 8 hours from bottle to throttle? Is my blood alcohol content greater than 0.04? Any effects of alcohol still in my system?
  • Fatigue - "Those toolbags at Crew Scheduling put me on for an 0500 show-up but my launch isn't until 1300? And I'm scheduled to overnight on Tarthan IV? It has six suns! It doesn't even have night!" Am I going to be too fatigued to fly?
  • Emotion - "I just saw my planet destroyed. I assure you, I am emotionally compromised." - Spock. Am I emotionally unable to fly?


  • Suit Up

  • Assess the Situation

  • Find your Procedures Manual

  • Engage Emergency Protocol


  • Air

  • Communication

  • Ensure Survival

Two different simple acronyms that you can use. ACE sounds like something you might learn at a crash course pilot school, especially one where pilots are getting a new or separate certification but probably already know what they're doing. SAFE is more like a company policy, especially for a company that might have top of the line suits that they payed more for so that the ship can have cheaper life support systems. And of course Asses is self explanatory, and if the assessment says it's okay you get your (F)procedure manual and finally follow the 23 point checklist for reestablishing communications and rationing instructions until a rescue arrives.


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