This article was originally published on June 22, 2012.
While immense spacecraft like the Enterprise, Galactica, and Discovery capture our imaginations with their spectacular sense of detail and scale, it’s the small ones — the kind that might fit into your garage — that are really intriguing. I’ve fantasized for years about operating the vehicles listed here. A lot of people want to own Lamborghinis or Rolls Royces. I just want one (or all) of these.
1. Starfleet Shuttlecraft
How would you like to shoot around the Solar System in this baby? I almost listed a Starfleet Runabout from Deep Space Nine, but the Galileo and her ilk are really at the root of all Star Trek shuttles. I’d get excited every time I saw an episode with a shuttle in it. “Galileo Seven” was my favorite, but I was also partial to “The Doomsday Machine” when a shuttle was rammed down the behemoths’ throat.
While I often wondered where the bathroom and sleep areas were, I still thought this design was way cool. It was also neat that the shuttle could travel at warp speed between star systems. My dad gave me an AMT model back when I was little; I wish I still had it! Thank you Matt Jeffries for designing an icon.
Growing up in the deserts of Arizona, I was really excited by the snowy world of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. I loved the icy vistas. Considering that I’d never even seen real snow, it felt like a truly alien world. What I liked even more than Hoth was the vehicles the rebels used to zip across its surface.
Designed by the amazing Joe Johnston, a Star Wars storyboard artist turned film director (he directed Captain America in 2011), the Snowspeeder felt really unique and seemingly plausible.
While its aerodynamics may not have really worked, it looked so cool and industrial. I also liked the flap panels at the rear that would open for steering. I also liked the fact that the pilot and gunner sat back to back. From the blasters to the convenient grappling hook, this fast flying vehicle is perfect for finding lost Rebel commanders and downing lumbering Imperial Walkers.
Wouldn’t it be fun to carry the bar of energy that becomes a Lightcycle? Just take it with you, and turn your bike on and off at will. Very convenient! Imagine driving to the store and simply transforming your vehicle into a small cylinder–shaped shaft of light, do your shopping, and then re-rez it and drive home.
If the cops came after you, it would be a simple matter of activating your jet walls to block them from pulling you over. On your way home — if you run into a traffic jam — turning at sharp right angles would be a great advantage. Let’s face it, this icon of the Tron Universe is about as cool as it gets.
The Lightcycle was developed by my design idol, Syd Mead. He also created Blade Runner’s Spinner. Back in the mid-90’s, I was honored to meet Mr. Mead in person. We spent considerable time talking about his design influences and his views as a visual futurist.
Speaking of the Spinner, I couldn’t create a Top 5 list of vehicles without it. I have to admit that back in 1982, I basically wanted to see Blade Runner because I knew there was going to be this really cool flying police car in the film. It didn’t disappoint.
Watching a young Commander Adama — I mean Edward James Olmos — pilot the vehicle was in inspiration (if only that could have been me). I still want a flying car! Seeing the car arc through huge canyons of buildings and past huge digital billboards has been etched into my memories forever.
With covered wheels, cool illumination strips, and fold-up doors, the Spinner is an essential element of Los Angeles in 2019. A few years back, I was lucky to have been given an exclusive behind the scenes look at the real, full-size prop car at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. It was even more gorgeous in person. Here’s hoping that Ridley Scott includes an even better Spinner in the upcoming Blade Runner sequel.
5. EVA Pod
Last, but definitely not least, is the EVA Pod from 2001: A Space Odyssey. For me, to this day, it’s the crown jewel of small space vehicles. The black and white craft with its simple spherical shape and small oval window is about as perfect as you can get. I also like that it featured maneuvering thrusters and grappling arms; it felt practical and artistic at the same time.
Unfortunately, the pod would only really work in space, so I’d have to conjure up an excuse to fly it around the ISS or something. The next time I’m in space, I’ll remember to bring it along!
Harry Lange and Fred Ordway were so far ahead of their time with the design concepts in this film that I really think we are yet to catch up. I have yet to see space designs as competent and as visionary as those in 2001. If only the real year had lived up to its cinematic namesake.
Also published on Medium.