Strange Brouhaha

Monday, August 07, 2006

Wanna make a spaceship?

I do. Well, a model one at least. I figured I'd grab some plastic and wood and start shaping and fitting and gluing.

Then I started looking at pictures of TV and movie space ships--stuff from Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, Star Trek and so on--and I asked myself a really basic question: what is all that shit for? No, seriously...what?

Now, by "shit," I mean "stuff on the outside of the main structure." For example, take a look at pretty much any ship in Star Wars. The Star Destroyer is a good example. Look at all that stuff that's sitting on the outside of the vessel. Why is it there? Why is there conduit on the outside of the ship? Yeah, it looks neat, and provides visual interest, but why would someone design a ship where all of that breakable stuff is outside? What happens if it breaks? (Star Trek is actually pretty good in this respect, probably because the budget for the show didn't include a line item for highly-detailed models.)

So I got hung up on that for a while. In fact, I still don't know why you'd make a ship with bits on the outside that don't have to be. But I decided to just live with it.

See, there's two basic design philosophies: on the one hand, you have writers and filmmakers and so on who try to stick to realistic design--in other words, given the limitations of physics, what would a spacecraft look like if we were to make one today?--and on the other hand, you have people who create fantastic, dynamic designs that become icons of popular culture, the people who just throw up their hands and say "It suits my story to have a craft that would otherwise be a gigantic plummeting brick land gracefully" or "It suits my story to have a craft move faster than the speed of light would allow while at the same time suffering no relativistic effects."

The Realist school is neat, and in fact there's at least one whole website filled with information on what you might need to consider when designing a Rocket Ship. Other stuff is out there on the science and physics of space travel.

But Magic has a seductive pull. Who wouldn't want to come up with a swooping brick-in-an-atmosphere-but-screw-you-it's-landing-anyway fighter design, or a "there isn't enough energy in an entire planet to move this damn thing" super heavy cruiser?

I'm going to try to walk the line. We'll see how it turns out.


  • According to "UFO Files", there's three basic designs that are known to have visited Earth - Cigar, Disk and Triangle. So, unless it's one of those, it won't be realistic.

    For what it's worth, I have an unfinished (actually unstarted) model of the Area 51 UFO that my mom gave me for Christmas about 15 years ago.

    (Ugh - I can't sleep)

    By Blogger Terry, at 11:58 PM  

  • (Savannah) Honey. Honey, honey, honey. If the pipes on the outside of the Star Destroyer break, Darth Vader or the Emperor will fix it with their *minds.* Don't you know that??

    Besides, maybe the technological processes of the vast Galactic Empire are so mindboggling that the ships *have* to look like pitted craters with shish kebabs. I'll happily go with the Magic on that one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:39 AM  

  • Terry said...
    According to "UFO Files", there's three basic designs that are known to have visited Earth - Cigar, Disk and Triangle. So, unless it's one of those, it won't be realistic.

    That is incorrect. Clearly there could be ships whose designs are "realistic" regardless of whether such ships have visited Earth. Maybe they save the really cool ones for other planets.

    By Anonymous Josh, at 10:34 PM  

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