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Famous Spaceships

Famous Spaceships of Fact and Fantasy
…and how to model them


Part I

Edited by Harold A. Edmonson

1979 Kalmbach Publishing Co.



A Bit of Perspective


George Elrick


Some of the spacecraft presented in the following pages are "real;" other are fictional. Whether they stem form science fiction authors' fantasies or scientists' calculations, the make-believe and the actual are so closely related-with the exception of warp drive and supralight jump capability-as to be joined at the hip. Science fiction draws upon science fiction and fantasy. The projections of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells have largely come true. Arthur C. Clarke proposals for artificial satellites, made in the 1930's, saw fruition on October 4th, 1957, when Sputnik 1 beeped across the heavens.

Generally speaking, what's fictional today will be realisable (for better or worse) tomorrow. The laser weaponry of 'Star Wars' and 'Battlestar Galactica' isn't even a step removed from that of hunter-killer satellites currently on drawing boards. An emission weapon like 'Star Trek's' phaser may well be developed before youngsters now entering kindergarten graduate form high school. The same can be said regarding photon torpedoes or their equivalent. The principles governing ion engines have been known since World War II. Nuclear fusion propulsion engines are no longer considered outlandish. Odds are that force field and deflector systems are being explored at this time in secret private or government laboratories around the globe.

The main point of contention between what's regarded by science fiction writers as possible and by scientists as impossible is faster-than-light travel. According to Einstein (and his theories have been experimentally verified many times), nothing in the universe can surpass lightspeed. An object's mass increases as its velocity increases, so that its becomes infinite at the speed of light. This fact need not bother readers and viewers of science fiction, because all art forms necessarily involve taking some liberties with the "real world." No one objects if a play or movie that actually lasts an hour or two dramatises the entire life of its hero. If Captain Kirk, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and other fictional characters zip form galaxy to galaxy through faster-than-light-the-speed-of-light jumps, so be it. It's a convenient fiction that keeps the adventures moving.

Still, a competent science fiction writer is usually careful to avoid violating laws of nature without good artistic reasons. A scriptwriter who causes spaceships travelling through a vacuum to decelerate when they run out of fuel is flouting laws of inertia known to western man for centuries. A director who insists that the sounds of explosions can be heard in a vacuum similarly violates elementary facts of nature. A good part of the pleasure of science fiction comes from its "let's pretend this really could happen" attitude: The writer who ignores too many scientific facts isn't playing by the rules accepted by science fiction audiences. He may present entertaining stories, but these are now fantasy, not science fiction.
Of course, in a society in which technology changes rapidly, ideas about what could happen and what could be possible also change rapidly. The design of fictional spaceships is a case in point: they have changed radically over the years. In this case, fiction has closely followed contemporary trends in popular design and has attempted to keep current with the designs of US and Soviet spacecraft. Whether oblate (roughly cigar-shaped in form), spaceships, prior to the streamlining of the Chrysler automobile in 1933, tended to resemble Christmas tree ornaments. Protuberances and filigree were rife. An examination of early Buck Rogers comic strips confirms this. Following the public's infatuation with gently curved tear-drop shapes, artists began to depict most spaceships as elongated fountain pens. This situation prevailed for 15 years. After World War II, and actual space probes by NASA and the Soviet Union, many fictional spacecraft reverted to shapes prevalent before 1933.

Why? Because science fiction writers and artists recognised that because there is no atmosphere in outer space, there is no need for streamlining. A spaceship contoured like an Easter basket travels just as fast as one structured like a pointed pencil. Streamlining is necessary, though, for those spaceships that are meant to operate in planetary atmospheres as well as outer space. That's why some of the recent fictional spaceships in this book are streamlined and some aren't.

Whatever its design, each modern fictional spaceship is equipped with an extremely sophisticated guidance system featuring sensor screens, long distance radar's, etc. This reflects the enormous complexity of navigating artificial satellites, planetary probes, and, of course, the Apollo moon missions. In the early days of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Brick Bradford, spaceships were steered by levers similar to those used on bulldozers.
Thus it goes, fiction influences reality; reality influences fiction. This book attempts to show the best of both worlds.


Fig 1


Shapes of good and evil from TV's Battlestar Galactica…
Viper And Raider


Chris Tietz

Battlestar Galactica fills the television screen with action-packed derring-do among the distant stars, exposing audiences to new and exciting alien civilisations and technologies. Glen A Larson is Executive Producer and creator of the series; Universal Television is the studio; and ABC-TV (which telecast the first story in the fall of 1978) is the network. The story revolves around the race of peaceful humanoids who are sneakily attached by a rival race of armor-clad mechanical beings known as Cylons.

The peaceful race - which exists in twelve colonies on twelve planets - has unwillingly battled the Cylons for a thousand years. Weary of wars, its Council of Twelve has finally negotiated a tentative peace agreement with the Cylon Empire. As they trustingly approach the Cylons in deep space with most of their combined worlds' spaceships, including enormous "Battlestars," the peace-seeking humanoids are betrayed, attacked, and virtually wiped out, as are their home planets. Only the Galactica ship, temporarily diverted from the main fleet, escapes destruction. Horrified, the Galactica crew helplessly observes the holocaust via long-range viewers.

When the Galactica ship returns to its home base, the outraged crew finds a burned-out world. Gathering together what's left of their belongings, that world's survivors begin a shaky Dunkirk-like exodus in a rag-tag fleet of spaceships, using any and all types of spaceworthy vehicles. These tattered remnants rendezvous with Galactica, and together embark on a long voyage in search of the legendary planet Earth, so they can hopefully establish roots on a new globe. This immense journey is punctuated by encounters with alien beings and hazardous space phenomena, and is underlines with anxiety over being caught by the ever-pursuing, always vicious Cylons.

The Galactica - The Galactica itself is 2,000 foot behemoth of a spaceship with a strikingly reptilian appearance. Its wedge-shaped bow cuts a domineering swath through space. Two huge rectangular pods straddle the centre of its body in gigantic outrigger fashion. The twin pods serve as hangers for the ship's shuttlecrafts and its fleet of attack-interceptor Viper ships.