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"If I had to get a new Ph.D. now, I'd get it in polymer engineering - the manipulation of matter."
- Bart Kosko

Survival Bubble (Beach Ball)  
  Simplest possible space survival pod.  

...the stars were glaring in at them through the ripped metal, and the air was roaring away, carrying anything loose...

Vacuum! Dawson's eyes and ears felt ready to pop... So. What have I got, a minute before the blood boils out through my lungs? I'll never reach my million-dollar pressure suit, so where are the beach balls? I located them first thing, every compartment, the emergency pressure ballons, where the hell were they?

Bulky disks, four feet across, turned out to be flattened plastic bags. Wes skimmed one at Rogachev. He pulled another open, crawled inside... Zipper? He zipped them inside. Tight fit. Some kind of lock at the end of the zipper. Air jetted immediately.

Technovelgy from Footfall, by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle).
Published by Ballantine in 1985
Additional resources -

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, life tubes from Liners of Space (1930) by Jim Vanny, 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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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Footfall
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle)
  Tech news articles related to Footfall
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle)

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