There’s an interesting article over at the Register about the progression of the design of spaceships in science fiction. This comment struck me:
“The silliest thing about alien spacecraft, which are designed only to travel in space, is that they are made to look aerodynamic, which is of course unnecessary, since there is no air… remember the Apollo LEM? That is how aerodynamic a spacecraft needs to be...”
Well, no, actually. In fact that statement in and of itself shows a lack of imagination. Certainly, something that’s travelling slowly through vacuum doesn’t need to be aerodynamic, but if you’re nudging the speed of light it’s probably not a good idea to present a large flat profile to even disperse interstellar matter, in fact streamlining seems like a good idea. And who says ‘designed only to travel in space’? Why shouldn’t these ships also be designed to enter all sorts of atmospheres, penetrate dust clouds, even surf in the fire of a sun?
And let’s not forget that the statement above is all about utility, about what ‘needs to be’. If you are capable of building interstellar vessels I submit that you’ve probably moved a bit beyond that. Why shouldn’t you do the Klingon thing and make your vessel in the shape of a hawk or similar. Why shouldn’t you, if you want, build your starship in the shape of a sailing ship, a shark or even a Ford Fiesta?
There is a large gap between what you must do and what you can do. And, let’s face it, when it comes to interstellar flight, we’re a long way from knowing what needs to be incorporated.
Nice interview here at the Register on the same (sort of) subject: Gavin Rothery was visual effects supervisor on the British sci-fi smash Moon, and has been a creative force on a welter of hit video games, and so has a lot to say on the subject of spacecraft design.