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"I'm strictly an ivory-tower person. I can explain things but I can't do things."
- Isaac Asimov

Personal Rocket Jet  
  A small, handheld jet pack that can be used to maneuver freely in space.  

"The trick to jetting yourself in space,"—he went on, 'lies in balancing your body on the jet—the thrust has to pass through your center of gravity. If you miss and don't correct it quickly, you start to spin, waste your fuel, and have the devil's own time stopping your spin. "It's no harder than balancing a walking stick on your finger—but the first time you try it, it seems hard.

"Rig out your sight." He touched a stud at his belt; a light metal gadget snapped up in front of his helmet so that a small metal ring was about a yard in front of his face. "Pick out a bright star, or a target of any sort, lined up in the direction you want to go. Then take the ready position— no, no! Not yet—I'll take it."

He squatted down, lifted himself on his hands, and very cautiously broke his boots loose from the side, then steadied himself on a cadet within reach. He turned and stretched out, so that he floated with his back to the ship, arms and legs extended. His rocket jet stuck straight back at the ship from the small of his back; his sight stuck out from his helmet in the opposite direction.

He went on, "Have the firing switch ready in your right hand. Now, have you fellows ever seen a pair of adagio dancers? You know what I mean—a man wears a piece of leopard skin and a girl wearing less than that and they go leaping around the stage, with him catching her?" Several voices answered yes. Hanako continued, "Then you know what I'm talking about. There's one stunt they always do—the girl jumps and the man pushes her up and balances her overhead on one hand. He has his hand at the small of her back and she lays there, artistic-like. "That's exactly the way you got to ride a jet. The push comes at the small of your back and you balance on it. Only you have to do the balancing—if the push doesn't pass exactly through your center of gravity, you'll start to turn. You can see yourself starting to turn by watching through your sight. "You have to correct it before it gets away from you. You do this by shifting your center of gravity.

From Space Cadet, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Scribner's Sons in 1948
Additional resources -

Compare to the electrical tether from Garrett P. Serviss's 1898 novel Edison's Conquest of Mars, the Personal Jet Thrust from Robert Heinlein's 1948 novel Space Cadet and the broomstick from Arthur C. Clarke's 1952 novel Islands in the Sky.

Thanks to Winchell Chung for gathering this material on his site - see Project Rho.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Space Cadet
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Space Cadet
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

Personal Rocket Jet-related news articles:
  - Laser-Activated Rescue Thrusters For Astronauts

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