During different eras people had different stereotypical visions of alien spacecraft. Sometimes it came from the movies and sometimes it bled into the movies from real life. This design is a classic- it's the standard classic pointy-nosed sits-on-its-fins spaceship. This piece of Raygun Gothic
comes from the time when T-bird fins were actually seen as futuristic rather than retro. Spaceships were more likely to be referred to as rocketships by excited seven year old boys and the designs could feed off the ongoing space race and concurrent developments which were based around a long steel tube with a pointy tip that had fins on the bottom and belched flames out of its base to reach for the skies.
While once the definitive spaceship image, nowadays you generally only see these as parody or homage. Their typically phallic shape is a common target for mockery.
A few features are particularly common. The design will often necessitate a vertical take off and the fins often are used for the rocket to stand on, leading to one of the style's alternate names: “tailsitters.” Thus many will have a tripod base for its fins. Also, unlike modern rockets, these typically don't discard stages to lighten their load for the trip, so the entire rocket goes into space and back. Note that in a setting with both in space, aliens generally got its nemesis—the Flying Saucer
—while this design was predominantly reserved for human characters, modern times have given us the ISO Standard Human Spaceship
in its stead.
Only very indirectly related to the small rocket motors used to provide retrograde thrust to an orbiting spacecraft (which even the earliest Space Race
orbiters had). Also shares its name with a type of rocket engine that uses chemical reactions between a solid and a fluid of some kind to produce thrust.
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Anime & Manga
- Tintin's rocket from "Tintin Destination Moon" and "Tintin Explorers On The Moon" is an interesting case as it's combined with a frighteningly prescient depiction of the Cold War space program. Blueprints and launchpad shown here. The plot is only slightly similar to the American film of the same year.
- The rocket's external appearance is based on the German V2.
- Anything used by Dan Dare.
- Superman is almost always said to have arrived on earth as a baby in a "rocketship,'' and the little ship is almost always depicted this way. John Byrne made it round instead of pointy, but even his version was recognizably a rocket. The only major exception is the movie version, which was a spiky crystalline sphere.
- The Legion of Super-Heroes (originally published in 1958) had a clubhouse shaped like this kind of rocket.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- In the Hyperion Cantos, the Consul's starship is specifically designed to fit the Platonic ideal of "space ship". This ideal, at least according to the author, is that of the Retro Rocket.
- The Corellian Trilogy features an outdated Selonian-built starship that launches and lands vertically, with the crew seated facing what is the top of the ship while landed.
- The anthology Old Mars, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois which homages Planetary Romance stories set on Mars, has a rocketship on the cover◊.
- Pops a lot in early Ray Bradbury short stories, where this design is explicitly described as a standard method of interplanetary and interstellar travel in the future.
Live Action TV
- This shows up in Doctor Who more than once. The one that comes to mind is at the start of "Planet of the Ood", where Donna goes gaga over the “proper rocketship” that flies overhead.
- Also any human rocketship from the First and Second Doctor eras.
- Star Trek has one in the episode "Space Seed".
- When the Enterprise was designed, Gene Roddenberry made sure to steer clear of this trope, which was a remarkable move at the time. Matt Jefferies, the original designer of the Enterprise, recalls that Roddenberry "emphasized that there were to be no fins, no wings, no smoke trails, no flames, no rocket."
- Captain B. Zarr's "Rock-It" in The Party Zone, complete with bulbous nose up front and engine fins in the rear.
- Played with in Nebulous. Nebulous instructs Paula to 'fire retro-rockets', resulting in a fun whooshy noise. Then he asks her to 'fire those more modern-looking ones', resulting in an action-movie-ish Bang, Bang, BANG.
- Star Control Syreen ship, Penetrator "is shaped after the V-2 rocket, and a dildo".
- There's one of these in Myst. It doesn't actually take you anywhere, but just holds the link to the Selenitic Age. (You link into an identical spaceship, a remnant of the fact that at one point in the game's development you were supposed to fly in the spaceship.)
- Many of the ships in the Escape Velocity series, from the humble scout ship in the original to the... rather engorged Igazra from Override.
- Gene Wars
- Super Mario Galaxy
- The S.S. Dolphin and Hocotate Ship from the Pikmin series.
- The rockets at the REPCONN Test Facility in Fallout: New Vegas.
- The Blasterpals have a purple one in Math Blaster Episode 1. It gets shot down the sequel.
- Bugs Bunny shorts:
- Mad as a Mars Hare, where Bugs takes a trip to Mars in one of these ships. Watch him land starting at 1:50.
- Haredevil Hare. Bugs is sent to the Moon in what he calls a "flying cigar."
- The Planet Express Ship from Futurama, though it's horizontally oriented with extendible landing gear. Note the various late Fifties-ish elements in the show: In a show named after a 1939 & 1964 World Fair exhibit, a man who dresses like James Dean is impressed by a Retro Rocket.
- Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century: both Dodgers' and Marvin's ships. Likewise, Dodgers' ship in the 2003 Duck Dodgers TV series.
- In Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out, the duo build an orange rocket of this design. Some later episodes feature smaller versions of this rocket as decorations in their house.
- The Space Ranger ships in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
- Thunderbirds and its craft Thunderbirds 1 and 3. One's a hypersonic plane based on 50s-60s high-tech fighters and X-planes (MiG-21, X-5, X-15) and mid-50s VTOL designs like the XFV and XFY. The other is a rocket ship with a tripod of engines. Both essentially have the same overall shape and impact leading to many seven year old arguments about which one was better. Both fit very well into the trope, aside from TB 1's VTOL abilities in horizontal position.
- The rocket ships in Sunprobe and Day of Disaster were each examples of this trope. The Sunprobe was a Vostok-style engine cluster with loads of extra fins and a full-on Retro Rocket stuck on the nose. The Mars Probe in Day of Disaster...Well, see for yourself.
- The spaceships being built by the Middleton Space Center, and occasionally used by the heroes in Kim Possible.
- The ancient (and now almost forgotten) Supermarionation sci-fi series Space Patrol both averted this trope and played it straight, as the spaceship used in that series (called the Galisphere or Galasphere) looked like the stereotypical space-station, with a central cylinder connected by cylindrical "spokes" to a toroidial ring.
- The Liberty Ship is a proposal for a nuclear-powered surface-to-orbit heavy cargo booster. It would have enough delta-V to not only be single stage to orbit but would use its engines to deorbit and land instead of using aerobraking
- The Kankoh-maru is a Japanese proposal for a chemical-powered reusable single-stage manned orbital launch vehicle which can carry 50 paying tourists into low Earth orbit (mass production and very high flight rates would mean that the cost of a ticket would only be $20,000, compared to an orbital trip today costing 1000 times as much). It does not exactly look like the Retro Rocket, but the operating principle is quite similar: it is a tailsitter that would take off and land vertically.
- The Delta Clipper was an attempt to make a reusable rocket SSTO. A prototype was built, but the program was cancelled before any actual single-stage-to-orbit vehicles were produced.
- Although the whole rocket won't go to space, the spacecraft/rocket company SpaceX plans to make a reusable version of their Falcon 9 launch vehicle, with its two stages returning to and landing back at the launch site on their tails, with rocket propulsion and landing gear.
- The Hugo Award trophy is in this shape.
- The V2, while it never carried a manned payload or any means to perform a soft landing, likely served as the inspiration for the general aesthetics of Retro Rockets.
- The logo for the British comics and sci-fi collectibles shop Forbidden Planet.
- The German Chaos Computer Club has this thing.