"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
I'm assuming that Niven and Pournelle got this idea from NASA's minimalist Personal Rescue Enclosure:
The ball was 36 inches (86 cm) in diameter and had a volume of 0.33 cubic meters. The structure was comprised of three fabric layers and incorporated a window and a zipper to allow the astronaut to enter and exit the ball. The ball enabled one crew member to curl up inside and don an oxygen mask and hold a carbon dioxide scrubber/oxygen supply device with one hour worth of oxygen.
See also the Inflatable Expansion Bubble from Crashlander (1994) by Larry Niven.
Compare to the escapecraft from The Ethical Equations (1945) by Murray Leinster, the emergency space-boat from Revolt of the Star Men (1932) by Raymond Z. Gallun, the escape pod from Star Wars (1976) by George Lucas, the life tubes from Salvage in Space (1933) by Jack Williamson, the life ship from The Invisible World by Ed Earl Repp and the emergency lifeboats from Triplanetary (1934) by 'Doc' Smith.
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