The tractor beam, beyond simply reminding people how cool Star Trek was, will quickly find purpose in saving stranded cosmonauts and corralling space junk.
Until now, techniques for recovering personnel who've been ejected from the spacecraft have hardly been varied -- fortunately, deep space should be slightly more safe. The idea may have originated in the minds of science-fiction writers, but the tractor beam has now been realized by John Sinko and Clifford Schlecht, engineers at the Ohio State University. The system works by loading two propellants, each responding to a unique laser wavelength, onto the suits of astronauts. In the event of an emergency, the mothership simply aims the laser at the propellant tubes, shooting the stray astronaut toward the craft! Furthermore, the tractor beam is intended to be used remotely, which means that the stranded person can be returned safely despite being unconscious or badly hurt.