Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Boldly Gone

I feel like I'm starting to get a knack for these list-based posts so I think it's high time to cover a topic that's been long overdue: spaceships. Specifically, the eleven best spaceships in fiction in my not-so-humble opinion:

The Klingon Bird-Of-Prey

I've always loved the Bird-of-Prey. It's really too classy for it's own good. It's got a weapon for every situation, a cloaking device and still has enough room in the trunk for two humpback whales. Now that's luxury!

The Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey

You can't beat 2001 for sheer scientific rigor, especially when it comes to the ship Discovery One. Arthur C. Clarke was brought in to design this great space cotton swab. It's got everything, a nuclear reactor, a centripetal torus to simulate gravity and a completely trustworthy, 100% reliable computer to make sure the crew is sleeping soundly in their hibernation pods. The only thing that's missing are the giant radiator fins to get rid of excess heat!

Actually, they aren't missing, they were deliberately removed. See, the ship had giant radiator fins, making the ship look like a huge dragonfly at first. But test audiences thought they were wings so they were removed to reinforce the fact that the Discovery was made for space travel and space travel alone and as you should know, there's no air in space so wings would be pointless. Plus, most people probably don't even realize waste heat is a huge problem on spaceships.

So, by taking away a very realistic element of design the ship ends up apparently even more realistic as a result, but that's Hollywood for you.

The Satellite of Love from Mystery Science Theater 3000

If the Discovery One put the science back in science fiction, then the SOL took it right back out, stomped on it, threw it in the ocean then went back in time and killed it's grandfather. At no point is it ever explained how anyone on the Satellite eats or breaths (or other science facts), opting to repeat to itself it's just a show, we should really just relax.

Plus it looks like a giant doggy bone.

The Flying Saucers from Earth Versus the Flying Saucers

When I first saw Earth vs. the Flying Saucers I was expecting the archtypical silly B-movie. To my pleasant surprise it was actually very good and had some solid special effects, especially the eponymous flying saucers, animated with stop motion. Plus, they had death rays. How could someone not love death rays?

The Rocket from Destination Moon

The classic rocket ship; sleek, stylish and entirely chrome. It's the hot rod of space travel.

The great thing about Destination Moon is that it was made before the Space Race even started. Sputnik hadn't even been launched yet but this movie was already predicting nuclear powered rockets on trips to the moon and back, something that still hasn't been attempted by any space agency to this day. Plus, it was all a single stage rocket, meaning you never have to worry about discarded propellant tanks burning up in the atmosphere after launch and it was as tall as a high rise apartment.

It was one seriously stylish ship is what I'm trying to say.

The Red Dwarf

I'm not sure where it was first said (probably in a spin off novel) but apparently the Red Dwarf is powered by a Bussard Ramjet. This means that it sucks in free-range hydrogen from the space around it and shoots it out the thrusters at high speed. Theoretically, the ship could keep going forever.

Given how many years this show was on, I don't have any trouble believing that.

The Orion Project

Do plans for real life spacecraft that never made it past early planning count as fictional? If so, allow me to elect Project Orion as an example. The original plan was simple enough: use timed explosions to push the ship forward without the need for bulky propellant tanks. These "pulses" could accelerate the ship to high speeds like something out of a Wily Coyote cartoon.

But what kind of explosion would be enough to give this giant spring board the ompf it needs to get to the other end of the solar system? What can provide the sheer, raw power needed?

Two words: hydrogen bombs.

Theoretically speaking, nukes offered the highest available payload and the efficiency of the system was estimated to be higher than any other proposal. The only problem is a lot of bombs were needed for long distance trips. Like, hundreds of bombs. Each one capable of ending all life on Earth several times over.

So why didn't this project get off the ground? Well for one thing the Orion would have been a giant nuclear machine gun in orbit, something the Soviets weren't too keen on. Plus international treaties would probably have frowned on it. No doubt the phrase "doomsday device" was thrown around pretty often during the planning committee.

The USS Enterprise (Constitution Class Refit)

I admit it, I love all ships from Star Trek, yes, even the Voyager. So for the sake of brevity, the refit of the Constitution-Class will be the last one I put here, mainly because it's the best looking.

The Starfury from Babylon 5

I've never actually seen Babylon 5 so I know absolutely nothing about the plot. But from what little I've heard, the show actually had some pretty solid science for the first couple seasons. For example, this ship is absolutely covered in thrusters. Why? Well, something a lot of writers forget is that navigating in space is a frustratingly awkward affair.

See, because there's no air in space, there's no friction. So if you turn off the thrusters you don't stop, you keep going in that direction until you hit something. If you want to stop, you have to thrust in the opposite direction. That's one of the (many) reasons why Star Wars is so stupid, all it's ships have thrusters in the back and nowhere else. If you ever wanted to turn in an X-Wing you're out of luck, you're stuck moving forward. But not in the Starfury. You have thrusters forward, backward, up, down, basically everywhere.

Imagine space like a slick icy road and the ship like an out of control semi-truck. The truck is going to be sliding around, totally unable to get a grip. If it wants to make a turn, it's going to have to spin itself around as it's sliding and drive in the direction it wants to go even as it's still sliding along it's previous course.

Space travel is a lot like that, but worse. At least with the truck you only have two dimensions to worry about, but in space you have a lot of, well, space to move around in, three whole dimensions to take into consideration. That's why space battles won't look like World War One dogfights, with lots of banking turns and dramatic swooping. It'll be two lumbering propellant tanks lazily orbiting each other until one is reduced to molten slag.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the Starfury addresses all the issues of navigating in a frictionless, zero gravity environment but it still looks good doing it.

Spaceball One

This list wouldn't be complete without the largest, fastest ship in the Universe. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves...FOR LUDICROUS SPEED!


mom said...

I was reading thru all this thinking to myself ..but what about spaceball one? and low and behold you added it! im so proud of you

Shadgrimgrvy said...

You know I couldn't leave it out! I was originally going to have pictures of the ship, one for each section but it would have made this post ten times bigger.

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