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Shiny-Looking Spaceships

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" this is my idea of a spaceship — gleaming metal, flashing lights..."

Older and more idealistic Science Fiction features Shiny-Looking Spaceships, often rocket-shaped, which are shiny, pristine and bright in almost all conditions. This trope was pretty much the standard before the 1970s with films like Silent Running (1972), Dark Star (1974), Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and Alien (1979), which depicted space vessels as lived-in, industrial and/or pragmatic. However, it seems to be making something of a comeback.

For ships that never enter the atmosphere of a planet, this is actually (semi-)realistic. There is no mud or dust in interstellar space to leave grit or dirt on the outsides of passing spaceships, although there are micrometeorites that gradually scuff and erode the surface, so older vessels would have more of a matte hull. A reflective surface would also mean that Frickin' Laser Beams would have a harder time burning a hole in your hull, and you have some degree of innate heat-shielding due to having a high albedo surface.

The interiors of said ships are also often curiously spotless considering how many people are crammed into them for long periods of time. This can be hand waved away by having very efficient air filtering systems or micro/nanoscopic cleaner robots (or just really good visible-scale robots offcamera). It can also be answered with very dedicated crews (as aboard military vessels with many enlisted men and women to keep occupied), or, as in the case of Andromeda's early seasons, the simple fact that the ship is mostly deserted. Or simply by saying that The Bridge is a place where only the Command Roster goes and the Redshirts quarters are less pleasant.

Compare with Retro Rocket, Standard Alien Spaceship, and Starship Luxurious, any of which can overlap with this. Contrast with Used Future and Standard Human Spaceship. See also Zeerust, Ascetic Aesthetic.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In UFO Robo Grendizer, one of the Mazinger Z sequels, Duke's Cool Starship and Humongous Mecha and the Vegan starships are shiny-looking, bright and very polished, although they may get dirtied in battle.
  • In Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the flagships of the Galactic Empire are perfectly polished and luxuriously decorated, with marble pillars and plush carpeting on the inside, and spotless from the outside. Reinhard von Lohengramm's flagship, the Brunhild, is so white and shiny that it appears to have an aura surrounding it.
  • Some of the Ships in Bodacious Space Pirates follow this aesthetic. Of particular note is the Odette II, a former pirate ship being used as the private yacht for a Girl's School. Its solar sails are so shiny, they can function as a makeshift weapon by redirecting sunlight onto a given target. The ships of the Empire, which resemble flying daggers, also count. You can check them out here.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1942): The Amazons have a fleet of gleaming spaceships, emblematic of swans or ducks in reference to their owing their island and civilization to Aphrodite. They also serve as a contrast to the bulkier, rougher ships of their extraterrestrial foes.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: The flying saucer Rhino encounters in "The Spaceship" fits the trope, on the outside if not inside.
    Hovering about sixty feet above the ample side yard was a large flying saucer. It gleamed with an eerie silver glow, studded with twinkling azure lights and emitting a quiet thrumming noise.
  • A Crown of Stars: The spaceships used by the Avalon Empire are all impeccably shiny and pristine.
  • The entire United Galaxies fleet is comprised of these in the Golden Age series, in direct contrast to the junkier, less high-tech ships used by the Alternian Empire.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Discovery and other spacecraft in the film are nice and shiny looking, evoking a cold modernist aseptic aesthetic.2010: The Year We Make Contact, made the 1980's, reflects the aesthetic of its times. Discovery is covered with a thin layer of fine sulphur dust having spent nine years in orbit around Io. The Russian ship Leonov looks significantly more practical and "used".
  • Any ship from the planet Naboo seen in the Star Wars prequels, which were not just shiny, but chromed. This was intentional, to contrast with the Used Future of the original trilogy. See the picture above.
    • Expanded Universe materials establish that this was once a radiation-shielding measure but is now purely traditional; the full chrome paint job was reserved for the Royal Yachts, whilst the fighters have it applied to the nosecone and the leading edge of the wings.
    • Overall, the Prequel Trilogy shows a gradual transition from the polished look of the Old Republic to the matte greys and whites of the Empire and Rebellion. Films taking place during the time of the Original Trilogy show that the Empire at least favors polished interiors existing somewhere between this trope and a Used Future, in contrast with the more lived-in looking Rebel ships.
  • The ginormous glowy flying saucers from Close Encounters of the Third Kind are surely the brightest, shiniest spaceships ever put on film.
  • This is lampshaded in Galaxy Quest as Fred Kwan comments, "Wow, the floors are so clean!"
  • The perfectly shiny ship in Flight of the Navigator qualifies. It's a Trimaxian droneship, though of course that's strictly a model rather than a name.
  • The Hermes in The Martian looks a little bit like a cross between the ISS and an Apple store, despite being just over half-way through its intended operational lifespan.
  • The Icarus II in Sunshine, which has a big shiny sunshield out in front. This is for purely practical purposes, to prevent the ship, and more importantly, its payload, from getting destroyed by heat as it approaches the Sun.
  • The Endurance from Interstellar adheres to this asthetic particularly on the outside, though her interiors are also well-lit and decorated in mostly lighter colours.
  • The Luna from Destination Moon. Quite a few Retro Rockets fit this description.
  • The Cosmostrator in First Spaceship on Venus. This may depend on the quality of the footage available, but is most often shown as being completely chrome silver, with no apparent surface detail even when the posters for the film show details. Modelers most often paint it as completely shiny and chrome, and many online images show it looking like it was machined out of a single block of shiny metal.
  • The Nestor saucer in Battle Beyond the Stars literally shined before being destroyed, due to whatever material it was made of.
  • An odd juxtaposition of Shiny Looking Spaceships and Used Future can be seen in Space Mutiny. The control room of the Southern Sun seems white, pristine and shiny (like a movie set), and the action scenes in the rest of the ship look as though they were filmed in a grungy, 50-year old bottling plant. (With brightly lit exterior windows to boot. Hmmmm...)

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy
    • The Heart of Gold, justified in that it's brand new (with some controls still wrapped in cellophane). Arthur favorably compares it to the "dingy Vogon crate" he and Ford have just left.
    • Averted by the Vogons, and the Dendrassi who do the in-flight catering; their ships are foul inside because they like them that way.
    • The blacker-than-black spaceship they stole from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe's parking lot was even shinier, an amazing feat for a ship that was perfectly frictionless.
  • The Spider-Wolf ships in The Lost Fleet books are beautiful to look at. While the creatures themselves are ugly as sin, an unholy union of a wolf and giant spider), their concept of beauty is similar to that of humanity. Everything they do screams it, up to and including the way their ships move, hence the species' other soubrette "Dancers".
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Wraith Squadron, four factory-new X-Wings are delivered to the hangar. One of the pilots stands among them, happily looking over their shiny new surfaces. Then the squadron's chief mechanic comes in and says he hates new snubfighters. They're completely untested, so there's always a chance that either some idiot on the assembly line made a mistake or took a shortcut or the builders decided to alter the specs in some way and it wasn't properly documented, and you never know if there's a potentially lethal problem until you've opened up every single one and examined everything. The ground crew go on to find several significant issues. They also uncover evidence of external tampering: Imperial Intelligence have an asset at the factory attaching tracking devices to fighters under construction with the intent of mapping newly-established New Republic military bases.
    • Galaxy of Fear has, similarly, a stop at an Honest John's Dealership, where the pushy dealer tries to sell off a shiny new ship that a tech-minded character knows doesn't have much going for it beyond the shine. He's more interested in What a Piece of Junk that has seen heavy use.
    • Shadows of the Empire gives us Dash Rendar's Outrider, whose armor is plated with black chrome to camouflage it in space.
  • Due to the story's Anachronic Order, in Thebe and the Angry Red Eye we first see the Hildebrand One after it's been trashed in a space disaster. However, between Flashbacks and the memories of Character Narrator Thomas, we're informed that once it was actually beautiful.
    Thomas: While the ship may not look like much now, shattered within a Thebean crater, if you could see it in its day, with the Hildebrand emblem still shiny and new on it I tell you, it was astounding!

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda:
    • The titular ship, as well as, pretty much, any High Guard ship, from the tiny but sleek slipfighters, to the massive Siege Perilous-class fleet killers. Also the ships of the Knights of Genetic Purity that are deliberately all-white (i.e. angelic). Most others tend to be of the Used Future kind. The Eureka Maru being the best example. Nietzschean ships also don't fit this trope, but the background material mentions that the original Nietzschean armada was mostly made up of converted cargo ships, and the later ships fit the same pattern.
    • This can be explained by the Old Commonwealth not being at war (or any sufficiently large conflict) for nearly a thousand years. When most of your warships are just there to patrol space, might as well make them look nice to show off your greatness.
    • This is demonstrated by the Resolution of Hector, a new Siege Perilous-class ship commissioned by the New Commonwealth in addition to the ships recovered from the Nietzschean ship prison. Unlike the other two Siege Perilous ships shown, (the Balance of Judgment and Wrath of Achilles) both of which were built by the Old Commonwealth, the Hector has a more industrial look, while retaining the same basic shape.
  • The Minbari in Babylon 5, in keeping with their Crystal Spires and Togas/Space Elves characteristic. The Centauri, in keeping with their pompous Bling of War, has elements of this. Narns have exotic looking ships to make them look more advanced than they really are. Human vessels on the other hand, are rather more functional-looking (unless it's the rare luxury liner or the president's ship).
    • The Humans' preference for Used Future starships (despite being one of the most powerful races in the galaxy) is lampshaded by one dry-witted Minbari, who claims that if humans had their way, everything would be depressingly grey and green.
    • Despite being jetblack in coloration, Shadow ships glisten when hit by light. The Whitestar, a Vorlon-Minbari hybrid, is also quite shiny. And of course, Babylon 5 itself (specifically the rotating sections) are probably sprayed with chrome as they also sparkle when lit.
  • The Liberator in Blake's 7. Averted in Season 4 with the broken-down cargo ship Scorpio.
  • Cylon Basestars in Battlestar Galactica (2003) are very shiny. They contrast with the eponymous ship, an obsolete old bucket which gets more and more damaged as the series goes on (though notably it still outperforms a shiny basestar one on one... someone had their priorities wrong among the Cylon designers). The battlestar Pegasus has a cleaner look to it, as it's a newer model, but still looks more utilitarian.
  • The Ship of the Imagination in 2014's revival of Cosmos is shiny enough to act a mirror for the starfields, nebulae, and other wonders of the cosmos to which Neil deGrasse Tyson travels. (The original series with Carl Sagan had more of an Eldritch Starship.)
  • Doctor Who: Discussed in "The End of Time". When Wilf first enters the TARDIS, he says that he expected it to be cleaner. The Doctor is immediately offended.
    The Doctor: Cleaner?! I could take you home right now!
  • Space: 1999:
    • The Eagle, workhorse spacecraft of Moonbase: Alpha, was eminently functional in form, but it was also usually squeaky-clean. This seems incredible considering the amount of moondust kicked up by its engines every time it takes off. The real Apollo astronauts had to frequently wipe the moon dust from their helmets just to maintain visibility.
      • In behind-the-scenes photographs it's obvious that the miniatures were heavily weathered. Unfortunately, it just didn't show up very well on TV.
  • Every Federation ship in the Star Trek universe.
    • Especially egregious in the case of Voyager since the ship was far, far away from support facilities and starbases. Outside of a few special episodes, the ship spent most of the series looking fresh out of drydock. Glad to know they're using their replicator rations for paint.
    • Was averted in the Xindi arc of Enterprise, where the ship keeps (most of) its battle scars from episode to episode. The paintjob scratch made by Trip in the pilot receives a nod later as well ("I thought I told you to fix that"), although we don't get to see it. The aversion is particularly strong in the aftermath of "Azati Prime" which ends with Enterprise suffering a Curb-Stomp Battle at the hands of the Xindi; for the rest of the season and into the next one, she looks like she's on the verge of falling apart.
    • Also averted between Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, as the Enterprise pulls into Spacedock with the scars the Reliant gave it still black (including the damage to the bridge).

  • Analog:
    • The February 1939 cover has a sleek silvery spaceship that had crashed into a desert. You can tell it crashed based on the white smoke from holes, including one tear along the side and a slightly malformed front.
    • The September 1939 cover has a pair of shiny, smooth, cigar-shaped rockets (but without fins). The foreground is the inside of a similar-looking ship, with curved windows and glasses, rounded edges everywhere (including the lever handles).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eldar and Tau vessels in Warhammer 40,000. Just those two races.
    • Eldar, of course, have the aforementioned 'cleaner robots'(like the small 'warp spiders' that maintain each ship's Infinity Circuit-the aspect warriors were actually called after those, apparently), and goodness knows what else keeping their psychically alive spacecraft made out of a self-regenerating material clean. And tau? Well, this is the race with the caste system that makes them consider the guy that cleans out the latrines to be on par with a bureaucrat.
      • They really only stand out because by contrast the Ork "ships" are salvaged junkers called Space Hulks held together by garbage and good feelings, while the human ships are basically city-sized space-faring cathedrals that avert the look due being thousands of years old, most of it spent fighting space demons.
      • Necron ships...don't shine, exactly, but have very clean lines.
    • Tau ships aren't shiny, per se, but along with the rest of their tech they have a clean, brightly-coloured aesthetic to them. note 
  • In Traveller one option is to give your ship a coating that allows you display screensavers on the hull. Thus your ship can be as shiny as you want. This can also be done on interior bulkheads too, though naturally that would be more for crews quarters, wardrooms, etc, then for the hold. On the other hand maintenance and cleaning are as constant a job as they would be in Real Life. Traveller averts the assumption that Big Damn Heroes are immune to mundane considerations.

    Video Games 
  • In the X-Universe series, the advanced races all use shiny space ships. Paranid Empire capital ships and escort craft have blueish hulls polished to a sheen, Boron craft have iridescent green Living Ship-esque hulls, and United Space Command capital ships are such a brilliant white that they become blinding in sectors with bright stars. In contrast, the utilitarian Teladi Company uses a wide variety of off-grey and beige boxes hastily slapped together using technology bought from other races.
  • The Covenant ships in Halo, which tend to be a shiny shade of purple. In contrast, human ships are dull and generally follow the Standard Human Spaceship aesthetic, though their post-war ships are moving towards this trope as well.
  • In EVE Online, Amarrian and (to lesser extent) Gallentean design is all about this. The Minmatar and (to less extent) the Caldari opt for Used Future.
    • The Amarrian legion, in all its forms, will even reflect the environment around it.
  • In Tachyon: The Fringe, GalSpan ships all shiny with smooth lines and exotic shapes and are also colored with white and blue paint. They are shown to be less sturdy than their Bora counterparts, which are converted cargo haulers and look accordingly. Star Patrol Enforcer fighters are also white and blue, although their design is radically different from most fighters in the game.
  • In keeping with the clean, futuristic aesthetic of Mass Effect, there are many ship designs that are shiny, spotless and strangely lacking in right angles. Most of these belong to the asari or the geth.
    • The Normandy SR-2 from the second game is probably the best example from the series — strangely enough, this was supposed to make Cerberus appear cold and clinical when compared to the original. Little hard to grasp when the first ship was both dimly lit and suffered from a terrible combination of colours. Dark blue interior with bright yellow computer displays? Most of the crew probably had chronic migraine headaches from the eye strain.
    • And true to form, it seems that the Alliance removed a few lightbulbs when they performed their refit of the SR-2. Of course, they might have intended to replace them, but were unable to do so as the refit was halfway completed when the Reapers invasion hit Earth, leaving much of the ship's interior strewn with exposed cables, conduits, open panels, crates stuffed into every corner, and tarps covering unfinished areas. A few digs are made at Cerberus's ship design as being Awesome, but Impractical as well, indicating that Cerberus spent more time making the ship look good than they did making sure the design made sense.
  • The pulp fiction stylings of Red Alert 3: Paradox demanded this. Soviet spacecraft are even chromed against radiation.
  • The Thul ships in Darkstar One. Since they want to prove that they are better than the other races (especially the Terrans, who they were descended from) in every way, it's natural that they make their ships look much better than all of the rest.
  • In StarCraft the Protoss all have bright and shiny space ships that have gold-like paint jobs and shields surrounding them.
  • In Sins of a Solar Empire the Advent has shiny ships. TEC is more ISO Standard Human Spaceship even though most vessels are repurposed civillian commercial and industrial vessels. Vasari designs are more alien-like in design but could fit somewhere between both tropes.
  • Endless Space the alien Sophons and the human Pilgrims both share sleek, white and shiny ships. While the United Empire has the Standard Human Spaceship design. The Cravers also possess spindly and blocky ships, while the Horatio which compose entirely of human clones have sleek and almost alien like designs.
  • The ships built by The Empire in Elite Dangerous are all about shiny spacecraft. Everything they fly is painted a brilliant, shiny white.
  • The Lanius spacecraft in FTL: Faster Than Light have silver-coloured hulls, sharp wings and are adorned with blue external lights, standing out from blockier, more utilitarian spaceships of other races (especially the Engi). Quite surprising given that the Lanius' hat is scavenging whatever scrap other civilisations leave behind.
  • In Stellaris, Avian, Fungoid, and Caravaneer ships look like this, combined with elements of Standard Alien Spaceship. To a lesser extent, the Molluscoid ships, though those have a lot of matte as well.
  • The Orokin spaceships from Warframe, on the outside, resemble splotches of white and gold paint. On the inside, you will find grand halls of ivory walls and golden linings, adorned with white tree-like growths, flowing streams of water and abstract art resembling levitating, spinning flowers. Even maintenance tunnels are incredibly shiny.


    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The International Space Station, owing to its reflective metal and white paint, and its prominent solar panels.
  • Solar sail craft, like Nanosail-D2 and IKAROS, are shiny by necessity since the solar sail works by reflecting sunlight to propel the craft, and their shininess is a byproduct of their reflectivity. Theoretically, any solar sail or laser-based beamrider would therefore have to be a shiny-looking spaceship.
  • NASA's fleet of Space Shuttles, while noticeably worn at points on the exterior, were spotlessly clean inside the crew space. At 400 million dollars per launch, cleaning the carpets adds a negligible cost to each mission. (That, plus the fact that any dust or dirt could drift in microgravity indefinitely.)
    • That, plus everything was taken apart, tested and refitted or replaced during the turnaround between missions. It's why the shuttle cost more than intended.
    • Initially NASA wanted to add more aesthetic appeal to the Space Shuttle (probably to please taxpayers by showing off what their dollars paid for), painting the external tank a gleaming white. After the first two missions, however, they came to the conclusion that it was a waste of money (Especially since the tank, unlike the booster rockets, wasn't recoverable for reuse after launch). It wasn't just the cost of the paint or applying it, but the hundreds of pounds of additional weight it added, making each launch more expensive in terms of fuel and limiting payload size. So in the end function won out over shininess, and ever after the external tank remained unpainted.
  • Way back in the day, airplanes were built out of wood and canvas, those being relatively strong, lightweight materials. As technology (and metallurgy) advanced, around World War II, these planes gave way to stronger metal-bodied planes. These were initially painted in drab colors to make spotting them more difficult, but towards the end of the war, the US Army Air Force (as it was then) began shipping planes overseas in a bare-metal finish, since this saved a few hours in production and made the planes slightly faster due to lower air resistance and less weight; the Navy and Marine Corps continued to paint their aircraft for corrosion-proofing reasons. Shiny chrome-looking jets would go on to be a staple of Cold War aviation for decades to come, especially as radar negated any advantage in trying to visually camouflage the planes in flight, which was probably also both an inspiration and invocation of this trope in practice.
  • One brief aversion of this trope came about during World War II, in a strange sort of Retro Upgrade was the RAF's De Havilland Mosquito a.k.a. 'The Wooden Wonder'. As the name suggests, it was almost entirely made of wood, due to rationing. It promptly proceeded to spend the rest of the war outflying everything else that took to the air, either by superior speed or superior handling while also being able to take punishment from enemy fire surprisingly well. As Goring sourly noted in 1943, it was better than anything the Germans could put out (and considering some of the planes they had, this was an impressive feat...)
    "In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now! It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set - then at least I'll own something that has always worked."
  • As of January 2019, the design of the SpaceX Starship (the second stage of the interplanetary rocket previously known as BFR) is made of stainless steel. It was originally going to use carbon fiber. Practical reasons include its low cost (carbon fiber would have been dozens of times more expensive), its high strength-to-weight ratio at very cold temperatures (useful for holding cryogenic propellant), and its high melting point (useful for atmospheric entry). It also helps that the stainless steel alloy in the starship benefits from a few recent advances in materials science, most notably cold forming, and is therefore more easily workable even in places like Mars.
    • Interestingly, SpaceX is over 60 years late in building rockets out of stainless steel. The SM-65 Atlas missile first flew in 1957, and was most notably used as the launch vehicle for the orbital flights in Project Mercury, depicted in the book and film The Right Stuff.