The Fake History of Space Travel

How does the Endurance from 'Interstellar' compare with these other fictional spacecraft?
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

For those who have already enjoyed Interstellar, you’ll already have realized that the real star of the movie — even moreso than Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway or whoever-saw-him-coming Topher Grace — was the Endurance, carrying on a proud tradition of fictional spacecraft doing amazing things.

But where does the Endurance’s ability to travel through wormholes fall in that tradition? Doesn’t cinema tell us that humanity should be far beyond that point already? To answer that question, and put the future of humanity in some perspective, here’s a brief history of mankind’s space adventures — as far as television and movies are concerned.

A Long Time Ago: Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)

Admittedly, Star Wars happened in a galaxy far, far away, which likely rules it out of any specific timeline of mankind’s fictional accomplishments when it comes to space travel, but think about it — in some reality, way before we had even reached the moon, someone had built a spaceship that could do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs and still be considered a hunk of junk by most. That’s an advanced space program right there.

Pre-history: Battlestar Galactica (Battlestar Galactica)

The first — and, ultimately, final — of the massive war-cruisers built to defeat the Cylon menace, the Galactica was pretty much the definition of substance over style; it was never the most beautiful, most comfortable spaceship in the fleet (although it does have a certain utilitarian appeal), but when it comes to “survival a genocidal attack and leading the remains of the human race to their new home on Earth,” it really can’t be beat. When it comes down it, that’s even more impressive than the Endurance’s mission.

1972: Icarus (Planet of the Apes)

One of the few launches from the short-lived ANSA (the American National Space Administration), the Icarus — also known as the Liberty 1 — was a ship that proved to be far more successful than first intended. Launched as an attempt to reach another star, it not only succeeded in that mission, but also traveled two millennia in the future to a world where mankind was enslaved by apes. Admittedly, that last part didn’t really work out too well, but come on: that’s a well-built spacecraft right there.

1979: Moonraker (Moonraker)

A re-usable space shuttle constructed by Drax Industries — a name that just sounds trustworthy and not even at all — the Moonraker sadly turned out to be one element of a nefarious plot to create a master race living on a space station orbiting the planet while simultaneously killing everyone left on Earth by turning the atmosphere toxic. Admittedly, the design and manufacture of a working space shuttle program seems like a particularly big step to take in service of a genocidal plot ultimately foiled by the British Secret Service, but it was the ‘70s; people liked to make big gestures back then.

1999: Eagle Transporter (Space: 1999)

Despite the setback of the failed Moonraker program, mankind’s space exploration program advanced in the subsequent two decades to the point where an entire moon colony (Moonbase Alpha) was established before an unforeseen event sent the moon hurtling out of orbit and into deep space. Thankfully, the colonists had the sturdy Eagle Transporters (powered by nuclear propulsion, which does seem slightly dangerous) to transport themselves onto new planets afterwards, ensuring that they were not trapped on the moon for the rest of their existence.

2001: Discovery One (2001: A Space Odyssey)

Just two years after the tragic loss of Earth’s moon, space exploration had already moved deeper into the galaxy, with United States Spacecraft Discovery One, an ship designed for interplanetary travel that was controlled in part by the HAL 9000 artificial intelligence. Originally intended purely to survey the Jovian system, the ship made it all the way to Saturn, though not without the loss of HAL.

2122: Nostromo (Alien)

By the year 2122, space travel had lost its luster and become a way of life for many — including the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial craft controlled by an artificial intelligence called MOTHER and crewed by a bunch of blue collar workers who couldn’t have cared less about space exploration. Well, that’s not entirely true; they cared enough to explore the origins of a mysterious transmission from a nearby planetoid, which was probably a mistake in retrospect.

2233: Enterprise (Star Trek)

Thankfully, contact with acid-blooded xenomorphs didn’t prove to be the end of the human race; instead, mankind continued to reach for the stars and rediscovered its pioneering spirit in time to dedicate itself to seeking out new life and new civilizations with ships like the U.S.S. Enterprise, commanded by men like James Tiberius Kirk and with a crew of hundreds of dedicated explorers. Boldly going would never be quite so comfortable again.

2157: Serenity (Firefly)

Following the exhaustion of the planet Earth’s resources, humanity headed into the stars, and the spirit of adventure behind the voyages of the Starship Enterprise became replaced by the need to survive by any means necessary. For that, smaller, more adaptable ships like this Firefly-class vessel were preferable, even if the 14-man ship was repeatedly referred to as “junk” by those not lucky enough to fly in it.

2805: Axiom (Wall-E)

It apparently took humanity a very long time to get around to cleaning up the mess its made of Earth, but by the early 29th century, everyone has been evacuated off the planet and onto a fleet of interstellar cruise liners like the Axiom, which offer everything that mankind could want — except for, you know, exercise or anything to prevent them turning into obese, lazy slobs who find it hard to care about anything that isn’t immediately handed to them on a plate or a screen. On the plus side, it looked very comfortable.

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