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. However, with the advent of vertically landing reusable rockets, this design is now starting to become Vindicated by History. 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 three or four 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).
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- The Luxion-class starships from Gunbuster.
- In Outlaw Star, the eponymous Cool Starship is a Genre Throwback to this trope, looking like both a classic Retro Rocket and the X-15 hypersonic rocket plane.◊ As a bonus, it launches vertically from planet surfaces, dramatic countdown and all.
- 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.
- In a Glorith-timeline comic, the rocket was a kid...
- In a crossover between the Justice League and The Authority, a rocket of this kind, used by the Legion of Super-Heroes, was mocked as a five-year-old's idea of a rocket.
- Destination Moon might be the Trope Codifier.
- Though Woman in the Moon got there first back in 1929.
- The second Men in Black film has this type of ship as part of the Special Effects Failure Show Within a Show.
- Honorable mention goes to 20 Million Miles to Earth, and When Worlds Collide has a variant which adds wings.
- The Rocketship X-M is likely the most phallic Retro Rocket ever seen, until The '70s porn spoof Flesh Gordon of course.
- Speaking of humorously phallic rockets: Dr. Evil's rocket in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, whose shape is described in a Hurricane of Euphemisms.
- The War Rocket Ajax in the Flash Gordon film.
- The spaceship in Earth Girls Are Easy is very much an homage ship. Not a 'tailsitter' but very close to the 1930s Flash Gordon serial ships.
- The P-1 spaceship from the Godzilla film Kaiju Daisensou (a.k.a. Monster Zero or Invasion of Astro-Monster ).
- Catwomen Of The Moon and the remake Missile to the Moon. Unfortunately while keeping within this trope the rocketship changes shape several times.
- Attack of the Clones: The Techno Union Hardcell-class ships.
- A gigantic one appears in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It's an Ark that will destroy the atmosphere if launched.
- 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.
- Oddly averted in the Perry Rhodan universe — for all the various shapes starships come in, one rarely if ever sees one of these. May be justified, though; the traditional rocket shape is optimized primarily for fast movement through an atmosphere (if only for purposes of breaking free of it before fuel runs out), and once a species gains FTL capability in this setting it probably also gets antigravity and at least some force field technology along with that, basically eliminating that concern and allowing ships to be designed with space travel in mind first and foremost.
- Strangely, played mostly straight in Mikhail Akhmanov's Invasion, despite being written in 2005. It's not an homage or a parody either. The novel is set before humanity's first forays into interstellar space. The ships of the United Space Forces are even stated to be descendants of the old 20th century space rockets. While most of them tend to be based on the Moon, Mars, or Mercury, which helps them take off and land with the lower gravity and less dense (or nonexistent) atmosphere, a few are shown to land and take-off from a spaceport on Earth. Largely averted in the subsequent books, when Imported Alien Phlebotinum allows for larger, more powerful warships to be constructed that utilize Artificial Gravity for propulsion and for generating Earth-norm conditions aboard. Ships are no longer built with the floor facing the engines and the fact that the larger ones are at least a kilometer long means that they are also not designed to land on Earth.
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."
- 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.
- Rocket Age loves its traditional gleaming rocket ships and plays them to the hilt. They land on their fins, they burn radium for fuel and pack Ray cannons, most even have self destruct buttons. These rocket ships have it all, and to top it off, the inventors were Goddard, Einstein and Tesla.
- 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: Among the debris in the Space Junk Galaxy is an abandoned rocketship in this style. Mario cannot get inside of it and it has its own gravitational field (except for its fins), so gameplay-wise, it's simply an oddly-shaped planetoid.
- The S.S. Dolphin and Hocotate Ship from the Pikmin series.
- Nearly all rockets in the Fallout Series. Within the games' alternate history it appears that early rockets of the 1950s and '60s were like the real world's: the Clarabella 7 seen aboard Motherboard Zeta along with other abductees vehicles is near-identical to the single-man Mercury capsules used for the USA's first manned launches (all Mercury capsules even included 7 in their name). As time progressed into the late '60s, things begin to diverge: the Valiant 11 lunar lander in the Capital Wasteland's Museum of Technology, resembles the planned soviet counterpart 'LK Objekt' rather than the real-world NASA Lunar Module (though unlike LK Object and like the real lander, it seats two rather than only one). Like all of Falliut's technology, into the 21st century things more and more resembled what concept artists and science fiction magazines of the 1950s expected: the U.S.'s final manned rocket, the circa-2020 Delta IX seen crashed in the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3 and the front courtyard of the REPCONN Factory in Fallout New Vegas was a nuclear powered rocket used for lunar excursions that resembles the classic Retro Rocket, though with wings in addition to fins, implying it could have been intended to take off or land like an airplane. Interstingly the Fallout 3 version features a black-and-yellow color scheme very similar to the real-world North American X-15 rocketplane's.
- In addition to this, the REPCONN Factory in Fallout New Vegas and the neighboring town of Novac's gas station feature more classic, unwinged retro rockets.
- The Blasterpals have a purple one in Math Blaster Episode 1. It gets shot down the sequel.
- In Rolo to the Rescue, Rolo takes a brief excursion to the moon on a wooden rocket.
- It is perfectly possible to build a ship like this in Kerbal Space Program and send it to orbit, thanks to the significantly smaller Δv-budget required to reach Kerbin orbit, compared to Earth. Not particularly efficient, but possible.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, the Spacemonauts travel to the Moon in one of these.
- The dragons' prison transport ship in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! has this shape, although it's also stated to have a retractable ramscoop for interstellar flight.
- The spaceship in this xkcd strip looks like a potato with fins.
- Bugs Bunny shorts:
- 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 spaceships being built by the Middleton Space Center, and occasionally used by the heroes in Kim Possible.
- The homemade space cruiser in Winston Steinburger And Sir Dudley Ding Dong.
- 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 obscure (at the time) Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky developed a design back in 1903, involving the teardrop-hull shape but without fins.
- The use of this design for sci-fi spacecraft in the post-1945 period would have been heavily influenced by what was known about German V-weapons: until the late 1950's, the V-2's were the only man-made rockets that had ever been outside the boundaries of Earth's atmosphere, albeit only to gain enough height on the way up to describe a parabola with sufficient momentum to bring them down over London. The drawing-board designs for even larger V-3 weapons capable of hitting New York or Moscow were also public-domain knowledge. The V-2 was in every visible respect a retro-rocket of tail sitter configuration.
- 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.
- The focus of Atomic Rockets