SPACE STATIONS IN SCIENCE FICTION

The Space Ark or Generation Ship

Click here to see a large picture of a space ark concept."

The above cover shows a space station that looks more like a dirigible, an airborne people transporter of the magazine's era, than a passenger carrying spaceship. The purpose of the space ark or generation ship is to give credibility to the concept of humans rocketing to the stars. Fashioning a science fiction plot at light year distances from Earth requires a vehicle able to transverse vast interstellar distances. Such a trip is impossible based on today's technology even if atomic propulsion is used. A solution is to draw a "world-craft" traveling in space.

Another approach is "faster than light" drive or FTL. Based on the theory set forth by Einstein, FTL is not possible. Other concepts proposed by sci-fi authors and artists include suspended animation, a type of human hibernation, where the biology of aging is so slowed that the stars might be reached during the lifetimes of the crew with craft of finite velocities. Such concepts conveniently eliminate the need for large amounts of food and water (supplies) for the centuries long trips to the stars in space arks. Can you imagine spending two centuries in a deep freeze? What a dull trip for both the crew and readers! Then, who would want to awake in a microwave oven? The generation ship without hibernation makes a better story: a world in space with its unique social problems and ecological challenges.

More unbelievable than the impossibility of placing a billion ton space world on a ten mile a second trip to the stars would be finding people to take the trip knowing they would never arrive. Noah had faith for 40 days adrift at sea, but 400 years?


Tom Swift Flying Saucer

Click here to see a large picture of a Tom Swift flying saucer concept."

A much used alien space station in science fiction literature is a space vehicle called a flying saucer. The name is based on the craft's saucer-like shape. The Tom Swift flying saucer shown above was conceived in 1956. It, like most sci-fi saucers, exhibits no translational propulsion system. Note, the tentacle-like grabbers descending from the saucer orifice. Like the saucer, they violate Newton's action / reaction principle in that they move in a guided path without the assistance of thrusters. They, too, have no apparent means of translation or direction control. Yet, the hapless astronauts are powerless to escape the grasping jaws. While the astronauts must contend with the force of gravity, the saucer hovers in place as though no gravity is present. Saucers float in space without the assistance of retro-rockets, helicopter-like rotors, or use of lighter-than-air gases. Early sci-fi authors devised "anti-gravity" materials and shields to explain such hovering and floating of spaceships. H.G. Welles in "The First Men in the Moon" employs these concepts with the invention of "Cavorite" by his protagonist Dr. Cavor.


Star Trek Space Station Enterprise

Click here to see a large picture of the space station Enterprise."

The starship Enterprise has a saucer-shaped space station crew quarters. Some think it was designed to appeal to the flying saucer mysteries of the era. Originally, the saucer was to be detachable. Though the initial STAR TREK series failed to detach the saucer in any of the episodes, later series have episodes where the saucer detaches.

The cylindrical module also holds crew members and serves as the central structure to which the pair of propulsion modules attach. The outrigger propulsion pods feature antimatter propulsion, a technology which has not yet been achieved, though plausible in many ways. If achieved, the energy of such engines would exceed that exhibited by cryogenic fuels (liquid oxygen and hydrogen) by factors of 1,000. STAR TREK alludes to impulse drive technology as well as "molecular-atomic-decomposition-recomposition-technology." "Beam me up, Scotty."


Imperial Space Explorer Ship

Click here to see a large picture of an unusual space station exploration ship."

Of special interest in the painting above is the communication antenna drawn by the artist. The exploration spaceship has a huge antenna for collecting very weak radio signals from vast distances. Its size is comparable to a ground based antenna dish rather than those used by spacecraft. Such a large antenna would be difficult if not impossible to stow in the event the vehicle needed to pass through a planet's atmosphere and land. The crew would have to jettison the antenna prior to entry. Additionally, spacecraft mechanical designers would be challenged by the lop-sided effect of the antenna. Correctly positioning the craft's center of mass during propulsive maneuvers would be impossible.

A number of descent rockets suspend the craft above the planet's surface. Apparently, the terrain is too rugged for landing. Note the pontoon-like landing pods for sledding into a landing. This, of course, would not work for irregular surfaces. The Apollo Lunar Module (LM) used a descent engine to suspend the craft above the lunar surface in the event of finding rough terrain.

The purpose of the pictured craft's rear sphere is a mystery. Perhaps, it rotates forward and aft, starboard and portside about the circular tunnel as sort of a thrust bubble (3-D thrust effector), allowing the rear rocket port to be directed for guiding the imperial explorer spaceship.


Click here to continue with: SPACE SHUTTLE TYPE CRAFT IN SCIENCE FICTION.


INDEX

Click here to continue with: Using Science Fiction to Teach Space Technology.

Click here to continue with: Early Sci-FiSpacecraft.

Click here to continue with: Spacecraft in Sci-Fi.

Click here to continue with: Space Stations in Sci-Fi.

Click here to continue with: Space Shuttle Type Craft in Science Fiction.

Click here to continue with: Using Science Fiction Space Technology in the classroom.


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Last modified: Thursday, 24-May-2012 11:00:00 AM CDT

Author: Jerry Woodfill / NASA, Mail Code ER7, jared.woodfill1@jsc.nasa.gov

Curator: Cecilia Breigh, NASA JSC ER

Responsible Official: Michael Red, NASA JSC ER7

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