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"The point sticks in your head: physics rules. Virtue does not triumph unless the physics allows it."
- Larry Niven

Tag-Along Balloon  
  A bladder-like device that both finds and temporarily fixes leaks in moon tunnels or space station habitats.  

You're in a space station or habitat in a vacuum. One of the most serious dangers you face is the loss of air; how can you find and fix leaks?

There were perhaps a dozen bladder-like objects in the tunnel, the size and shape of toy balloons. They seemed to displace exactly their own weight of air; they floated without displaying much tendency to rise or settle. Konski batted one out of his way and answered me before I could ask.

"This piece of tunnel was pressurized today," he told me.

"These tag-alongs search out stray leaks. They're sticky inside. They get sucked up against a leak, break, and the goo gets sucked in, freezes and seals the leak."

"Is that a permanent repair?" I wanted to know.

"Are you kidding? It just shows the follow-up man where to weld."

Technovelgy from Gentlemen, Be Seated, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Argosy in 1948
Additional resources -

This is such a simple solution to the problem. The slow leak of air causes the balloons to move to the source of the problem. When they are sucked up against the small hole, they are popped, releasing material to stop up the leak.

Obviously, this would only work with small leaks.

Compare to quartzite leak foil from The Great Dome of Mercury (1932) by Leo Zagat, leak disks from Islands in the Sky (1952) by Arthur C. Clarke and plug-ups from Passage at Arms (1985) by Glen Cook.

Another way to plug holes in spacecraft or other constructions in space is to have some sort of material already present in the walls. Compare to alpha inserts from Exiles of the Moon (1931) by Schachner and Zagat, quartzite leak foil from The Great Dome of Mercury (1932) by Leo Zagat, plastifoam from Collision Orbit (1941) by Jack Williamson and self-sealing plastic from Asteroid of Fear (1951) by Raymond Z. Gallun.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Gentlemen, Be Seated
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Gentlemen, Be Seated
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

Tag-Along Balloon-related news articles:
  - Ultrasonic Noise Betrays ISS Leaks

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