26 August 2015

Z is for Zero-X

Zero-X is the first manned spacecraft to land on Mars. It uses two separate lifting bodies as wings whilst in the Earth's atmosphere, allowing the craft to take off and land from a runway like a conventional aircraft. One in the upper atmosphere, these detach and return to Earth, as the ship heads off.

The Martian Exploration Vehicle (MEV) at the front of the craft is the ship's main control centre, which detaches on arrival at Mars, leaving the main body (and one astronaut) in orbit. The MEV then lands, using extendable caterpillar tracks to travel on the rocky surface.

The Zero-X appeared in two Gerry Anderson productions - the 1966 film Thunderbirds Are Go and the 1967 TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

"Zero X launch" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zero_X_launch.jpg#/media/File:Zero_X_launch.jpg

25 August 2015

Y is for Yamato

It's the year 2199, and an alien race is raining radioactive meteorites onto the Earth, rendering the planet's surface uninhabitable and forcing the population underground. All seems lost... until a discovery gives mankind one further slim chance to save the planet. All efforts go into restoring the hull of a battleship that was sunk during World War II. This becomes the Space Battleship Yamato, and supplemented with the installation of a new type of propulsion system - the wave motion engine. The ship then sets off on its journey to the planet Iscandar -  there's a device there that can heal the ravaged Earth...

Space Battleship Yamato ( 宇宙戦艦ヤマト ) is a Japanese science fiction anime series. The name of the ship may be more familiar to US and UK audiences as it was also used as the name of one of the Enterprise's sister ships in Star Trek: The Next Generation (NCC-1305-E).

24 August 2015

X is for X-Wing

The Incom T-65 X-wing starfighter is the primary interceptor and dog-fighter of the Rebel Alliance and the New Republic. Each X-wing is equipped with four laser cannons and a pair of proton torpedo launchers. The fighter has two flight modes: one where the wings are flat and another when they are expanded into attack position, making an X-shape and thus giving the wing-tip laser cannons a larger fire area.

Star Wars is an epic SF franchise, created by George Lucas in 1977. The first film in the series became a worldwide phenomenon, and five further films were released - all became box office successes. A further film is due to follow at the end of this year...


23 August 2015

W is for Winnebago (Eagle 5)

An unusual one, this. This spacecraft is in fact a 1986 Winnebago Chieftain 33 with wings attached, forming the 'Eagle 5' spacecraft. It comes complete with a periscope, secret hyperjets and an infrared scanner.

Spaceballs is a 1987 comedy film, co-written and directed by Mel Brooks. Essentially a parody of the original Star Wars trilogy, it also made references to the Alien and Planet of the Apes films.

22 August 2015

V is for Valley Forge

Picture this: all plant life on Earth has become extinct. A few specimens have been preserved in enormous, greenhouse-like geodesic domes - attached to a fleet of American Airlines space freighters, outside the orbit of Saturn. One of these ships is the Valley Forge. Unexpectedly, they receive orders from Earth to jettison and destroy the domes (with nuclear charges), returning the freighters to commercial service.

After four of the six domes are jettisoned and blown up, one Valley Forge crewman rebels...

Silent Running is a 1972 environmentally-themed SF film,  directed by Douglas Trumbull.

21 August 2015

U is for United Planets Cruiser C-57D

The United Planets Cruiser C-57D is a saucer-shaped starship. A smaller dome under the main saucer houses the starship's faster-than-light drive engine and central gyroscopic landing pedestal. On landing, the saucer's gangway and two conveyor-loading ramps swing down at an angle from the underside hull, near the edge of the lower lens shape.

Forbidden Planet is a 1956 American film, and is said to be the first SF film in which humans are depicted travelling in a starship of their own creation. The film has been cited as one of the inspirations behind 'Star Trek' - indeed, C-57D inspired the look of the saucer section and interior design of the USS Enterprise.

20 August 2015

T is for Thunderbird 3

Thunderbird 3 is International Rescue's single stage to orbit (SSTO) space vehicle, which is designed for space rescue, and also for maintaining the systems and crew of the space station (Thunderbird 5). The ship is is 87m long, with a 7m wide body and a 24m span (including engines). It uses chemical rockets for lift-off and boost, an ion drive for propulsion while in space and chemical retro rockets for reverse thrust in space. It could travel from Earth to within range of the Sun in 65 hours.

Thunderbirds was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and produced between 1964 and 1966 using marionette puppetry and scale-model effects. Two series of 50-minute TV episodes were filmed. A reimagined CGI series entitled 'Thunderbirds Are Go' has recently aired in 2015, giving us a further 26 20-minute episodes, and a second series is to follow. (Note: in the new series, the three protruding buttresses on Thunderbird 3 can fold out into grappling arms, which can be used to grab onto things in space. Useful! )

19 August 2015

S is for Serenity

Set in the year 2517, Serenity is a Firefly class transport ship, a older model that is generally poorly regarded by many. The ship is referred to as a 'flying piece of gos se' (the phrase is Mandarin Chinese, and it's not very pleasant), however its crew regularly defend the reputation of the ship.

Firefly is an American space western SF series created by writer and director Joss Whedon. Regrettably, the TV series was cancelled after only eleven of the fourteen episodes (produced in 2002) were aired. The show continues to have a strong fan base, which led Whedon and Universal Pictures to produce 'Serenity' in 2005, a movie which continues the story of the series.


18 August 2015

R is for Red Dwarf

Operated by the Jupiter Mining Corporation, the spaceship Red Dwarf, is vast - 6 miles (9.7 km) long, 4 miles (6.4 km) tall, and 3 miles (4.8 km) wide. Unfortunately, an on-board radiation leak of cadmium II kills everyone on board -  all except for the ship's lowest-ranking technician Dave Lister (Craig Charles), who is in suspended animation at the time, and his pregnant cat, Frankenstein, who is safely sealed in the cargo hold. What will happen to them once the radiation drops down to an acceptable level - some three million years later...

Red Dwarf  was merely another half-hour sitcom when it was first devised back in 1988 by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. The BBC series has since achieved a cult following, mixing influences from across the whole spread of the SF genre with British-style comedy and satire. The 11th and 12th series are now in pre-production and will air on Dave in the next few years.                          

17 August 2015

Q is for Galaxy Quest: The Protector

The NSEA Protector is an Evolution Heavy Cruiser that serves as the flagship for the NSEA (National Space Exploration Administration). It is Earth's most powerful interstellar spacecraft and has a full crew complement of 600.

Galaxy Quest is a 1999 comedy film, written as an affectionate parody of Star Trek; therefore, there are similarities between the two ships... for example, the Protector has a registration number of NTE-3120 which alludes to some sort of similar space federation. In reality, the letter prefix stands for "Not The Enterprise" - that's according to visual effects co-supervisor Bill George in a 2000 interview with Cinefex magazine.

16 August 2015

P is for George Pal: Martian War Machines

The Martian War Machines are shaped like copper-coloured Manta rays, with a bulbous, elongated green window at the front, through which the Martians observe their surroundings. The ships glide along on three electromagnetic legs - visible only where the legs touch the ground. The ships are armed with a heat-ray, on a goose-neck above the ship.

The War of the Worlds is a 1953 American Technicolor film from Paramount Pictures, produced by George Pal. It was a fairly loose adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. These particular ships were designed by Albert Nozaki for the movie.

15 August 2015

O is for Oh I Really Couldn't Ignore This One

The TARDIS is a time machine and spacecraft - the name being an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Properly maintained and piloted, a TARDIS can transport its occupants to any point in time and space. Dimensionally transcendental (the interior is much larger than its exterior), it can blend in with its surroundings using a 'chameleon circuit'. It also provides its users with additional tools, including a telepathically based universal translation system.

Interestingly, the best known version of the ship is that owned by The Doctor - an obsolete Type 40, Mark 1 TARDIS. Its chameleon circuit is broken, so it's stuck in the shape of a 1960s-style London police box. It's meant to be piloted by a crew of six, which makes life a bit tricky if you are trying to fly it on your own. And the ship itself is unpredictable - although it is later revealed that the TARDIS takes The Doctor 'where he needed to go' as opposed to where he 'wanted to go'.

Doctor Who is, of course, a British science-fiction television programme produced by the BBC from 1963 to the present day. The show is such a part of British popular culture, that the TARDIS is now much better known that the Police Box that shares its image.

14 August 2015

N is for Notes

This spacecraft is something a little bit - special. The main body is a kind of rowing boat which was built by Major Clanger, originally based on a Leonardo DaVinci design. It doesn't quite work - but then Tiny Clanger and Small Clanger pick a dozen ripe notes off the sentient music trees, attaching them to one of the sticky striped cheeses to create a musical wheel... They attach the musical wheel to the failed rowing-boat - and the boat rises slowly into the air, enabling them to fish for space debris... The awesome power of music! :)

The Clangers were created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. This children's TV series (set on a small moon) ran for twenty-six episodes on the BBC from 1969 to 1972. It's still tremendously popular. Good news - a new BBC series has just started airing - another fifty-two new episodes for 21st Century audiences to enjoy. (Note: the original episode featuring the musical boat is entitled 'Fishing' - here's a link!)

13 August 2015

M is for Moya

Moya is a sentient bio-mechanical spacecraft, a member of the Leviathan race. Ships of her kind have no offensive capabilities, but do possess an impressive defensive manoeuvre called a Starburst, which allows her to pass through a tear in space-time. She is maintained by DRDs (Diagnostic Repair Drones), small, beetle-like robots that Leviathans build as they grow.

Farscape is an Australian/American SF series, conceived by Rockne S. O'Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment. Four TV seasons were produced (1999–2003). A movie spin-off is currently in development.

12 August 2015

L is for Liberator

The Liberator is discovered, abandoned and drifting, close to Cygnus Alpha. It's amazingly well-equipped, technologically advanced, an awesome design. It has powerful weapons; a full system of battle computers, and an overall AI computer which runs the whole ship. It even has a working teleport system - something other ships in this particular universe lack.

And this is the ship that Blake and his band of freedom fighters suddenly stumble across and quickly master. What a remarkable piece of serendipity!

Blake's Seven was produced by the BBC between 1978 and 1981. There were four 13-episode seasons made for TV.

11 August 2015

K is for Kryten - and Starbug

The Jupiter Mining Corporation transport vehicle Starbug is a small green shuttlecraft. It has three sections - the cockpit, midsection and engine rooms, therefore the ship resembles a bug from the exterior.

The craft is often to be seen in Red Dwarf, a British comedy TV series, a character-driven sit-com in a SF setting. The show first aired on the BBC in 1988; new shows are currently in production.

The show started to use Starbug following the introduction of Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) as a main character, as this required a bigger shuttle to hold the crew. And this, in turn, gives me a plausible excuse to use this as my 'K' entry...

10 August 2015

J is for Jupiter Two

The Jupiter 2 is a rare example of a once common archetype from science fiction - the 'flying saucer'.(see the original 1960s version of the ship, which is illustrated here)

This ship is designed to transport a single family to nearby Alpha Centauri in order to start a colony. Cryosleep tubes are therefore installed on the ship, as are a 'space pod' (shuttlecraft) and 'chariot' (amphibious, caterpillar-tracked vehicle).

Lost in Space  was produced as a TV series by Irwin Allen, and ran for three seasons between 1966 and 1968. A reimagined movie version was produced in 1998. A further reboot of the show is currently in development.

9 August 2015

I is for Interceptors

The Interceptors form the first line of defence against alien attack towards the Earth. Operating in groups of three and launched from SHADO's Moonbase, these single-pilot interceptors attempt to destroy the alien craft using large nuclear missiles fired from the spacecraft's nose. You only get one shot - so make it count!

UFO was created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, with Reg Hill. It was the Andersons' first totally live-action TV series, released in 1970, and their first aimed at a more adult market. Sadly, it lasted only one season.

8 August 2015

H is for Heart Of Gold

The starship Heart of Gold is the first spacecraft to make use of a remarkable form of propulsion called the 'Infinite Improbability Drive'. Unfortunately, at its official launching ceremony, the ship gets promptly stolen. And stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox - you simply don't expect the Galactic President to steal the very ship that he is supposed to be launching!

The ship features in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a comedy SF radio series created by Douglas Adams and which aired on BBC Radio 4 in 1978. The show has since been adapted in a variety of formats, including stage shows, a "trilogy" of five books, a TV series, and eventually a movie version, produced in 2005. Further versions are eagerly awaited. The photo above shows the ship as depicted in the movie.

Note: Karey Kirkpatrick, who worked with Douglas Adams as part of the movie adaptation in 2005, has described the Improbability Drive as a "plot contrivance machine", as it allowed Douglas the wonderful possibility of building elaborate plot-lines based on the wildest of coincidences - which, in other narratives, would be considered too improbable to be believed.

7 August 2015

G is for Galaxy Class

The Galaxy Class USS Enterprise is a entirely different ship to its predecessors. With a total of 42 decks, this Enterprise was twice the length and had eight times the interior space of the Constitution Class ships of over a century earlier. She carried a combined crew and passenger manifest of 1,012. The ship has a whole host of phaser arrays and torpedo launchers, which can fire both photon torpedoes and antimatter mines.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (which is often abbreviated as TNG) is the second TV series based on Gene Roddenberry's original premises. Aired some twenty-one years after the original series debuted in 1966, seven seasons were produced between 1987 and 1994, with four movies subsequently produced.

6 August 2015

F is for Fireball XL5

The World Space Patrol has a fleet of at least 30 separate patrol ships in this class (an XL30 is referred to one episode), however it is Fireball XL5 that we're most familiar with. When taking off from Earth, the ship uses a mile-long launch rail to build up velocity. It separates from its rocket boosters just as the rail ends with a 40-degree incline, or sky ramp, sending the ship skyward. When arriving at its destination, the main part of the ship remains in orbit, with the winged nose cone (known as Fireball Junior) landing on the planet.

Set in the year 2062, Fireball XL5 was produced in 1962 by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. A black and white TV series, it ran for one season.

Note: initial development of this new show was under the name 'Nova X 100'. Before filming started the name was changed by Anderson, based this time on a popular brand of motor oil — Castrol XL. A change in phonetics created the name 'Fireball XL', with a '5' added for good measure as the name 'seemed a little flat without the numeral'.

5 August 2015

E is for Eagle Transporter

Eagle Transporters are modular in design, with various different types of centre section available according to mission requirements (for example, passenger transport, freight, or rescue). Although these ships were never designed for use as a military craft, Eagles used at Moonbase Alpha have been retro-fitted with laser emitters as standard equipment as well as an arsenal of missiles.

These ships are from Space: 1999, the last TV production by the partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The show ran for two seasons between 1975 to 1977.

4 August 2015

D is for Dark Star

The scout ship Dark Star and its crew of five have been alone in space for over twenty years... their mission, to destroy unstable planets using intelligent 'Thermostellar Triggering Devices'. However, with the captain now dead, the ship malfunctioning around them and mind-numbing tedium threatening to engulf the remaining four crew-members, forced to live together in such a confined space - what else can possibly happen...?

Set in the mid-22nd century, Dark Star is a low-budget black comedy from John Carpenter, released as a film in 1974. Fondly remembered.

3 August 2015

C is for Constitution Class

(of course, I just had to have the Enterprise. But there's been so many versions of this legendary starship...)

The Constitution Class USS Enterprise is 289 metres long, with 21 decks and a crew complement of 430. One of 12 ships in this class, this heavy cruiser is armed with phaser banks, 6 forward photon torpedo tubes and an aft torpedo launcher.

Of course, this Enterprise comes from Star Trek, the TV series that was created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966 and ran for three seasons. Because of the unprecedented success of the show and its later development as a franchise, the series is now known as Star Trek: The Original Series (or simply TOS) to distinguish it from the other versions of the show.

Note: this version of the Enterprise has a registry number of NCC-1701. Since the 1920's, N is the indicator for any aircraft from the United States, and C means 'commercial'.  Some people say that the Soviet Union designation was CCCC - thus, one N and 2 Cs together made it kind of international. Others say the extra C was simply added just to make it look better. In the show, they justified this by coming up with a Starfleet abbreviation for 'Naval Construction Contract', which was comparable to what the U.S. Navy would call a hull number. And the 1701? This was chosen to avoid any possible ambiguity; the numbers 3, 6, 8, and 9 were 'too easily confused'.

2 August 2015

B is for Battlestar Galactica

The Galactica has over 700 crew members and can operate as a fighter carrier, a battleship and as a mobile base of operations. It carries 75 Viper fighter craft, 12 Landram land based troop transports and 12 shuttlecraft. (specs are as per 1978 original TV series - that's the one that I best remember!)

Created by Glen A. Larson in 1978, Battlestar Galactica ran for one TV season, and with a less popular 'Galactica 1980' series produced soon afterwards. A reimagined version of the show was produced in 2003, a three-hour mini-series which led to five more seasons of shows (2004–2009). A further remake is on the cards.

1 August 2015

A is for Andromeda Ascendant

The Andromeda Ascendant is a Glorious Heritage Class starship which is discovered trapped in time, along with its captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo). Awoken after a 300 year sleep, Hunt must now assemble a new crew in an attempt to restore order to a galaxy.

The ship has an impressive artificial intelligence (AI) system, which appears to the crew in three different formats:
  • on the two-dimensional monitors
  • as a three-dimensional holographic projection
  • as the avatar Rommie (all three played by Lexa Doig). 
The TV series Andromeda was based on material written by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and developed after his death by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. The show premièred in 2000, and ran for five seasons.