Space. The final frontier. Also: so hot right now! This year, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy—to say nothing of the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens—continued feeding audiences’ appetites for all things extraterrestrial, picking up where the Oscar-winning Gravity and rebooted Star Trek series left off. There are sequels coming for Star Trek, Prometheus, and Guardians, Marvel will keep expanding its cosmic universe in Captain Marvel, and, on the small screen, Syfy is planning a rebooted version of the grandaddy of all space operas, Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001.
What does that mean for fans? Well, among other things: more spaceships. Whether from movies, TV shows, graphic novels, or sci-fi literature, the great fictional spaceships of the past century-plus have cemented their place in the pop-culture canon as they soared through the cosmos. As we steadily approach the era of Peak Spaceship, it’s worth revisiting some of sci-fi history’s most memorable crafts. To that end we enlisted minimalist illustrator S. Preston of S. Preston Designs, who also provided commentary for each of his spaceship reinterpretations.
1950: X-FLR6, the spaceship designed for Tintin in Destination: Moon and Explorers on the Moon
S. Preston: This spaceship is already minimalist since it comes from a cartoon. That made it easy to design—I only needed to crop just enough of the checkerboard pattern to make it recognizable.
Franich: Created by beloved French graphic novelist Hergé a decade before the first actual moon landing, the design resembles a V-2 Rocket, which means it looked futuristic when it first appeared and now looks positively vintage. The X-FLR6 is one of the great Pop Art images—at one point, the Pompidou, a modern art museum in Paris, proudly had a building-sized poster of the spaceship outside.
1966: Enterprise, the Constitution-class Federation starship from the original Star Trek series
S. Preston: It blows that the USSE has gone through more design changes than Lady Gaga does costumes. I decided to just crop and find an angle that is simple yet recognizable. Sorry, no lens flare.
Franich: There is something simultaneously stately and strange about the Enterprise, especially when you see it on the original series, sailing through a spacescape with primordial special effects. The glowing warp drive, the pizza-platter upper level. No one can ever quite agree on just how big the Enterprise is supposed to be, and years of adventures revealed a whole elaborate world within: a bridge, a bar, living quarters, endless corridors, and endless Jefferies Tubes veining throughout.
1968: Discovery One, first seen in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey
S. Preston: Deep space is inherently minimalist. So I used the negative space to help recreate a minimalist memorable moment in 2001 when Hal chooses to off Frank.
Franich: The Discovery is one of the great “realistic” spaceships, reflecting both Kubrick’s and Clarke’s penchant for rooting their far-flung philosophical explorations in a gearheaded factuality. A centrifuge creates the illusion of gravity, leading to the memorable scene of astronaut Dave Bowman jogging around his spaceship like a hamster wheel. Any filmmaker who attempts to create a “hard sci-fi” movie is always working in the shadow of Kubrick, Clarke, and the Discovery.
1975: The Eagle Transport, from runaway-moon TV cult classic Space: 1999
S. Preston: I’m in my 40s and this is a major flashback even for me. I didn’t need to over-think this design—if you get it, you get it (and you’re old, too).
Franich: The chintzy majesty of Space: 1999 is a delightful throwback aesthetic from the era before glistening digital visions of space travel. The show imagined a Moonbase in the far future of 15 years ago, with the lunar citizens hurling through space. Their preferred method of travel: The Eagle shuttle, a vaguely geodesic gray vehicle.
Next page: The greatest spaceship of them all?