My wife shared this picture with me today:

picture of a cartoon corgi doing the doggie paddle in space and moving forward

Adorable, but it got me thinking about that trope - swimming in space.

I've seen it before, mostly in cartoons and not live-action shows, the latter of which tend to have either more realistic space stations that astronauts pull themselves along on rails to get around in, or fictional artificial gravity.

My question then is three-part:

  1. Can a person actually 'swim' to get around in a real spacecraft?
  2. Could they do this in the vacuum of space? (Assuming they have proper space protection)
  3. Could a Pembroke Welsh Corgi on the ISS do a doggie paddle to get around?

3 Answers 3


You can sort of swim, but it would be very slow. The viscosity of air vs water is very low. Therefore the 'scoop' your hands or feet can get of the fluid, to propel it, and thus move you around would need to be much higher.

If you had fans (or 'wings') on your arms you would be more effective.

As for the corgi? Not likely, or at least very, very slowly.

You might be more effective inhaling with a wide open mouth slowly, then quickly exhaling through a small mouth in the direction opposite you wish to go.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Astronaut Dan Barry tried "swimming" in the ISS. It did not work. space.stackexchange.com/questions/18386/… $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 18:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble: Nowhere in the text in the linked answer does Barry actually mention "swimming" - reading that text, it sounds more like he was trying to move by thrashing his limbs, which doesn't work even in water. Additionally, swimming through air would be quite slow, to the point where it would take quite a while to realise that you were, in fact, moving. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 19:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 1. 'Sneezing and spitting didn't do much good either.' That implies that he sneezed and spat. Sneezing is an involuntary act, so how did he try it as a way to get to a wall. Sneezing in a space station or the like is highly frowned on, because it is unhygienic in the extreme, and disrespectful to everyone else, because whatever particles you sneeze out will float on the air rather than falling to the ground, and can easily be inhaled, a major health hazard. Deliberately spitting would be even worse. No astronaut would admit to having done that deliberately. 2. How would an astronaut not... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 21:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MatthewChristopherBartsh I hate to tell that I know Barry personally (here's a picture of he and I in a tank together) and I know for a fact that this happened. Theorize all you like. science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/sts-105/images/high/… $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 21:56
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MatthewChristopherBartsh - actually doesn't "conservation of momentum" only apply to the system as a whole and might not apply to an object subject to a small or large impulse in a liquid/gas with viscosity? In other words, if, while floating in air, you breath in slowly, that might not change your momentum much in the space you're floating in, but then you exhale quickly it could? Check your assumptions. The facile answer isn't always right. $\endgroup$
    – davidbak
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 21:14

A person could swim. But that would take many, many effort to generate even a little of velocity. The viscosity of air is much lower than the viscosity of water. When you swim in water you are practically pushing the water away, creating a force that makes you go the direction you're swimming to.

Imagine this with air. You could simulate this yourself too: Standing on the bottom of a swimming pool and make a swimming movement with your arms and feel the effect of you pushing forward. Then try it in normal air, almost nothing would happen. Then again with a propeller it's a different story.

In the vacuum of space you can't do this of course. Since there's no mass to push away, nothing to swim in, nothing can make you push forward.

The Corgi in the ISS could theoretically do that. But, that would be more of an disappointment if you compare that with the moving picture. It would take a long time a little, so I don't think the dog will use that to move itself around.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In fact, you can "swim" in a vacuum, taking advantage of relativity: science20.com/hammock_physicist/swimming_through_empty_space . However, this is a very subtle effect, and takes hours to move a foot or two. $\endgroup$
    – Skyler
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 16:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Astronaut Dan Barry tried "swimming" in the ISS. It did not work. space.stackexchange.com/questions/18386/… $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Perhaps this could be an answer to the question? $\endgroup$
    – joppiesaus
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Skyler Are you being serious? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 20:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MatthewChristopherBartsh are you as tired of having this discussion as I am? Didn't you ask a question about it? And write a whole bunch of comments about it on the other answer? For the record: it happened. I'm not responding to any more comments, chats, or questions on this matter. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2021 at 20:49

No you can't. There is no air in space. Basically you need some things to push backward to move forward. In water we push water backward to move forward. Space is void. Same case, for helicopter and aeroplane cannot fly in moon.(Don't get confuse: remember the first law of motion by sir Isaac Newton)

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Stack Exchange! I didn't down vote and usually people leave comments why they do. I would guess that here it's because your answer doesn't seem to add anything new that's not covered by other answers already, and because the question has three parts and they are not all asking about a vacuum; the first one mentions being inside a crewed spacecraft where there is presumably an atmosphere and so something to push against. Just a suggestion: It might be better to delete your answer to avoid further down votes. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 5:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.