Breakaway + 10

By Phil Plait | September 13, 2009 7:04 am
Space:1999 title shot

Has it been ten years since we lost the Moon and all hands on Moonbase Alpha? It seems more like 30.

Sigh. So much future is already behind us. When will the present catch up to the past?

Maybe we do need to give NASA a few billion more dollars. I can think of an excellent successor to the Shuttle.

Shuttle and Eagle on the ground

Image of Shuttle and Eagle from George Leonberger III.


Comments (60)

  1. CameronSS

    I think you brought down his site…”The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later. ”

    It’s a Geocities site, it probably doesn’t have the bandwidth to handle this blog’s traffic.

  2. I know: let’s start a commemorative comment thread on which was cheesier:
    1. Space: 1999
    2. Lost in Space
    3. The original (Lorne Greene) version of Battlestar Galactica

  3. “I know: let’s start a commemorative comment thread on which was cheesier:
    1. Space: 1999
    2. Lost in Space
    3. The original (Lorne Greene) version of Battlestar Galactica”

    Space:1999 wins by a Limburger. Even Barry Morse got sick of the show after only a year before leaving. How bad does a show have to be to drive away it’s own cast members?

  4. Phillip M

    I know this is a little off topic. With all the talk about human space flight and the Augustine Commission, has the Webb Space Telescope been affected?

  5. It’s an odd balance.

    On the one side, reality disappoints. No orbiting wheels with Hilton hotels and moon buses with flight attendants wearing poofy round hats and moon bases and manned missions to Jupiter… (2001: A Space Odyssey), but on the other side, no orbiting nuclear bombs (that we know of) or homicidal self-aware computers.

    There probably won’t be flying cars and off-world colonies in 8 years (Bladerunner), but there won’t be a total environmental collapse and killer androids, either.

    You can go down the list of the best, and the worst, science fiction of the past half-century, and find an endless supply of “Darnits!” and “Whews!”

    Personally, I wish there were a Space:1999 Eagle parked somewhere in Florida. If only for the possibility of go-go boots on the moon.

  6. Savino

    Hey, Phill, can you tell me what in the hell you were doing a show about the apocalypse that I watched yesterday on the History Channel?

    Hell, I LMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Elmar_M

    Yeah, I too would love to have a moonbase like “Alpha”.
    Its all the fault of the “greens”, we dont (jk). Did you know that the eagle transporter from SPace 1999 was powered by nuclear thermal engines (NERVA like engines)? That we never persued this path is mostly for environmental concerns.
    Well lets hope that there will be alternatives soon. Polywell Fusion, FRC Fusion. Or maybe, maybe we will have Mach Effect engines. There is still hope for a breakthrough in my lifetime.

  8. Pieter Kok

    That picture of the Space Shuttle is very cool indeed. What is the vehicle (I guess the Eagle) to the right of the shuttle?

    Also, it looks like they built the hangar for the shuttle, and then realized that the tail was too high to fit through the door… :)

  9. Elmar_M

    The vehicle to the right of the shuttle is a “eagle transporter” from the TV show Space 1999 by Gery Anderson (that this post by Phil is about).
    Someone made a nice compositing of a rendering of said vehicle with a photograph of the spaceshuttle.

  10. Elmar_M

    Oh and Phil, I can think of an excellent successor to the shuttle also. It is called Falcon9 and Dragon capsule by SpaceX. Well until said “alternatives” to those primeval chemical engines finally become available.

  11. Brian S.

    If you’re going to talk about cheesy programs you need to include Gerry Anderson’s “Supermarionation” programs, such as Thunderbirds, or Captain Scarlet. I have to admit, those always kind of creeped me out when I was a kid.

  12. llewelly

    Image of Shuttle moon-sized millstone around NASA’s neck and Eagle from George Leonberger III.

    Fixed caption for you.

  13. llewelly

    There probably won’t be flying cars and off-world colonies in 8 years (Bladerunner), but there won’t be a total environmental collapse and killer androids, either.

    It’s the killer androids I miss the most.

  14. Off topic, but the LRO site has a great photo of the Apollo 12 landing site, including Surveyor and impossible to miss astronaut tracks in the regolith.

  15. @ llewelly:

    It’s the killer androids I miss the most.

    Especially if they have the, um, features of Darryl Hannah?

  16. Mike Mullen

    NERVA and all nuclear propulsion is very much in the closet, if it goes forward it will probably be the Chinese who do it, they aren’t going to let a bunch of Greens get in the way. I SO wish that picture was real…

  17. Brian

    Happy Breakaway Day, Phil! This post reminds me–it’s been a year since I started reading you blog!

  18. @ Barry – all three had promise and all three betrayed that promise by radically changing the premise in two cases or just ignoring it in one. (Like Voyager did – what the hell happened to those people in between the pilot and the rest of the show?) That said, I’d go with Lost in Space: when Dr Smith & Will took over, it became enormously unwatchable. Remember all the tension, practically physical, between John and Don – partly over Judy and partly over who was in charge? Remember genuine peril? Remember Don being an atheist? It was there – for about four episodes.

  19. Ramel

    @Pieter Kok – “Also, it looks like they built the hangar for the shuttle, and then realized that the tail was too high to fit through the door”

    It’s a fairly common design for hangers built to house large aircraft, it’s simply done like that because it saves a fortune on designing and manufaturing the doors.

  20. ND

    Earlier I posted a link (in moderation) comparing various fictinal spaceships. Here’s a better setup

  21. Cool picture! Space 1999 wins cheesiest show ever.

    OT, but Global News BC reports that a bright fireball was seen heading in an East/West direction over the Vancouver area last night!

  22. ARJ

    “Space:1999 wins by a Limburger.”
    “Space 1999 wins cheesiest show ever.”

    I’ve never seen Space 1999 or Battlestar Galactica (…and most sci-fi is cheeeeesy), but gee it’s hard to imagine anything was cheesier than Lost In Space

  23. Stephen C. Burrows

    Everytime I see a reference to Space 1999 (awesome), I remember another super cheesy Canadian Space series called The Starlost. It starred Keir Dullea, yup the guy from 2001 and 2010. Excellent concept, but they only had a budget of nothing per episode…and it showed.

  24. Anon

    For your viewing pleasure, here are the two flights conducted by Armadillo Aerospace yesterday. With this success, Armadillo is in position to win the $1 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge – Level Two, First Place prize.

  25. Elmar_M

    Space 1999 stories were rather cheesy and kinda silly at times. The designs were awesome though and still look great after all these years.
    I miss the ships from Perry Rhodan in the scale comparisons. I guess that is because there were just from books and not movies. They were spheres with a central engine ring. Starting with a sphere- diameter of 60 meters up to 2.5 kilometres for the largest ones.
    Personally I think that a sphere ships larger 800 meters (empire class battleship in Perry Rhodan) are stretching believability. Where do you get the steel for that? I can imagine 800 meter sphere ships though, given the right technology. Heck if the Mach- Effect drives work (and they are more or less in line with GR, but stretch the interpretation a bit), then something like this could even be made to fly.

  26. #25 ARJ…
    “I’ve never seen Space 1999 or Battlestar Galactica (…and most sci-fi is cheeeeesy)”

    Ah, it’s important to note… this is the ORIGINAL Battlestar Galactica, not the Ronald D. Moore 2003 version, which was awesomely awesomer than anything ever ever ever.

    The only thing possibly cheesier that Space 1999, is Galactica 1980

    Brian, thank you for posting, Let The Eagles Soar”. I have been taking a baseball bat to my own head trying to get that song as sung by John Ashcroft exorcised from my head.

  27. JB of Brisbane

    1999 cheesier than Lost In Space? Never! Well, maybe the one where half the landing party were transformed, clothes and all, into cave men and women, or the one with the androids trying to find humanity by antagonising the Alphans, and even fans refer to the one with the interstellar trader as “Lost In Space: 1999”, but these pale into insignificance beside three seasons of The Will, Smith and Robot Show.

    Oh, and don’t knock The Thunderbirds.

  28. Lewis Van Atta

    Agreed that was a cheesy Limberger of an episode of Space:1999, but DAMN did Barbara Bain look hot (to my teenaged eyes and hormones back then) in that pink gown she wore most of that episode….still remember that 30 years later.

  29. T.E.L.

    Romeo Vitelli Said:

    “How bad does a show have to be to drive away it’s own cast members?”

    This happened to a little-remembered, super low-budget syndicated series from 1971 called Dr Simon Locke. Jack Albertson was in the show’s earliest episodes in a co-starring role. The show was so cheap that when actors worked on location, they had to go into the bushes to change into their costumes. Albertson was disgusted with what he’d gotten himself into and walked off production. The producers threatened to sue for breach of contract; but Jack just said “No court would convict me”, and he was quietly let off his contract.

  30. Sean

    The best thing about Space 1999 was its art and model design. The model design was courtesy of Brian Johnson, who went on to win an Academy Award for The Empire Strikes Back.

    Unfortunately, this was just about the only interesting thing about Space 1999. While the art design rocked, the plots, dialog, music score and optical effects pretty much sucked.

    But more than that, the show had a very dour, downbeat ethos which really put me off when I was watching it back in ’75.

    The producers did manage to attract a lot of British character actors to play guest-aliens, so you can see a young-er Christopher Lee and Joan Collins wrestle with the mediocre dialogue.


  31. Elmar_M

    Sean Says said: “Unfortunately, this was just about the only interesting thing about Space 1999. While the art design rocked, the plots, dialog, music score and optical effects pretty much sucked.”

    I dont agree with this. The effects for the time were rock solid. Not as good as Battle Star Galactica maybe, but not bad and they did not reuse the same shot multiple times in the same episode as BSG did. And man, did the eagles look cool when they crashed into the surface of the moon. It also looked really cool when people were sucked out the airlock or through broken windows. The show was very expensively made for the time, at least I had no complaints as a kid. The soundtrack was very 70ies but the moon theme (not the main title, but the theme they would play on the moonbase) was nice and dark and moody. It helped bring over a claustrophobic and desolate mood (hey they were allone out in space).

    What I thought was really bad, were the stories. The aliens also looked cheesy. Though that was something they had in common with Star Trek 😉

  32. StevoR

    Hard to believe that 1999 is so long ago now. A full decade in the past.

    Well almost I ‘spose technically there’s still another three & a half months to go … still.

    Plus 2010 of the second Space Odyssey novel fame is next year. Next year. Whoah.

    Am I the only one here to find that scary? :-(


    As for Space 1999 – sorry but that was one woeful series with one ludicrous premise. Has the BA even dreamed of pointing out the long list of impossible bad science things about that series & scenario anywhere? 😉

    The future is here … & its the present.

  33. Spectroscope

    @ 28. Elmar_M Says:

    Personally I think that a sphere ships larger 800 meters (empire class battleship in Perry Rhodan) are stretching believability. Where do you get the steel for that?

    Asteroids I’d suggest. There are some iron asteroids & theoretically even entire exoplanets could be super iron or metal-rich by some models I’ve read about.

    Oh & don’t forget most of Mercury is composed of iron with its iron core apparently taking up something like 70 % of its volume. (Figure comes just off the top of my head – please correct me if I’m wrong there.)

  34. Madame Rogue

    For shame, Phil!

    How could you make a Space: 1999 reference, and not even mention its kick ass theme song?

    (Although as far as Gerry Anderson themes go, I’ve always had a soft spot for UFO):

  35. JB of Brisbane

    @Sean – yes, and don’t forget Leo McKern, Jeremy Kemp, Peter Cushing, Brian Blessed (twice)… and, errr… Peter Bowles (thankfully without Penelope Keith). Then there were expat Kiwis James Laurenson and Pamela Stephenson (yes, the present Mrs Billy Connolly).

  36. Phil;

    In keeping with your Death From The Skies deal, have you ever done a post or article about what would actually happen to the Earth if the moon really was pushed irrevocably out of orbit by a nuclear explosion? Now that would be something.

  37. !AstralProjectile

    IMHO Blake’s Seven is cheesier.

    At any rate I think the scale of the Eagle in the photo is a little off. Judging by the speed of the Eagle’s lasers, it has to be about 1/4 of a light-second long. So why didn’t they just put the Moon in the cargo bay and fly it back to Earth?

  38. Joe Meils

    The Eagle is a worthy sucsessor to the shuttle? Um… you DO remember how many of those things blew up, right? (the Eagles, I mean) The Eagle has no heat sheild… it seems to have a “Hollywood Fuel Supply” and anti-gravity sheilds… yet, the things kept falling out of the sky like bricks!


    Couldn’t resist… :)

    (ISS mesh by Jason (“Ivor”) Webster, Eagle Transporter mesh by James Murphy, I just cobbled the scene together)

  40. Elmar_M

    Mark, I would say your eagle ist to small, at least by a factor of 6. The same is to say about the life boat over to the right. That also seems to small to me.
    Otherwise cool rendering!
    BTW, I did a Space 1999 scene for the LightWave 8.0 content (all models by me, scene by me also, textures by my dear business partner Wolfgang):

    I only had a couple of days for the eagle and two more for the rest of the scene. So it is not quite as detailed as I could have done it with more time.

    Oh, the Space Shuttle Model that NASA used for their return to flight and some other mission specific flash pages was also made by me for the LW 8.0 content.

  41. ND


    that is just awesome.

    there seems to be a common theme between the structure of the stations truss and the eagle itself.

  42. Elmar_M

    LOL, just realized that it is you Mark! Awesome, another LightWaver commenting on Phils Blog. The world is a village.

  43. mike burkhart

    I liked space 1999 when I was a kid they used to show it after Star Trek on the tv station . But I don’t know about Phill but some who know Im an amuter astronomer asked if it is possable to blow the moon out of orbit I reply (from the late Issac Asimov who was a physitist and a scifi writer and from Phills book ) that an explotion of that magnatude would have pulverized the moon .In 3rd grade I got on Star Wars and have been a fan ever since. P.S. If any one wants to know what happend to moonbase Alpha go to the website Moonbase Alpha it has a video of one of the actors telling what happened thus ending the story of Space 1999. You will find it in the arcives section marked sesion 3 I wont give it away but to say it is a happy ending.

  44. Elmar_M

    Hey mike, got a link to the webpage you are naming?

  45. Heya, Elmar! I thought it was you, too! 😀 I used your whole Moonbase scene recently for a silly (link’s on my url through my name) – hope all’s well!

    ND: Thanks, man :) Though I had to go one sillier…

  46. ND


    cool! :)

    Looking the Eagle and what it should be capable of propulsion wise in real life, it should be able to make a trip from earth orbit (ISS) to lunar orbit. And land even.

  47. ND


    About the shuttle graphic, I think the shuttle should be over the atlantic at that altitude, no?

  48. Elmar_M

    ND, yes that is true, but I took some artistic freedom to make the rendering more interesting (yeah I know and then I go and complain about Holywood getting their science wrong all the time, lol). But without this piece of artistic freedom, the background would have consisted simply of blue Atlantic and that would have been kinda boring.
    Actually, if I was being really correct here, the angle of the shuttle would be much different also at that altitude (more horizontal than vertical).
    I wished I had had the time to build a landing pad and use that for a BG instead, but I just had a couple of days for this scene including the search for reference materials for the models. That actually took a big part of the time.
    You are right though, it is not correct (you are only the second person to notice so far).

  49. ND, the only real problem with the Eagle is fuel bunkerage – that’s not such a biggie for orbital ops where you can coast, but in atmo it would Be An Issue with our current knowledge of propulsion. They do, however, look enormously cool :)

  50. Elmar_M

    I agree Mark, I was always wondering where they stored the fuel.
    Those designs dont leave much room for that.

  51. ND


    You’re right, those big main engines would require an external tank like the shuttle. Too bad.

    According to wikipedia:

    The Eagles are powered by four nuclear fusion rockets and carry fuel reserves for 48 hours of flight.

    The Eagle also has the capability to enter the atmosphere of a normal-gravity planet and then land using its chemically-fuelled landing rockets,

  52. T.E.L.

    ND Said:

    “According to wikipedia:

    The Eagles are powered by four nuclear fusion rockets and carry fuel reserves for 48 hours of flight.”

    That’s an interesting factoid. 48 hours under what conditions? For instance, let’s suppose it’s just hovering over the Moon’s surface. The ship is accelerating downward due to gravity, accumulating kinetic energy at about 1.3 watts per kilogram of mass, so the motors need to generate thrust equal to that just to hover. But suppose it’s doing the same thing on Earth. The figure then becomes 48 W/kg. If it could hover at that rate over the Moon for 48 hours, then it could only do it over Earth for very much less time. There’s also the issue of flying horizontally. The Moon has no air, so as long as it’s hovering vertically, a brief burst of horizontal thrust will allow it to drift in that direction without further impulse. On Earth it’s another situation where there’s plenty of air. Drag means sustained horizontal thrust, and tremendously less flying time.

  53. Cheesiness of tv sci-fi shows really needs to be expressed as a ratio rather than an absolute value. The shows that try to depict a realistic world or environment that (more or less) obeys the laws of physics automatically become far cheesier when ridiculous storylines or characters are introduced. Therefor, S1999 is the cheesiest by far, then BG, then LiS. I mean, when the show sagged, they added a sexy shape-changing alien cat woman to spice things up (a la the Hawk character in Buck Rogers).

  54. Stargazer

    They’re showing Space: 1999 on my science fiction channel, and I quite like it. Better in some ways than Star Trek TOS. But it works only if I try not to think of all the bad science in it… And why did Sandra become less and less important in the second season? Or is that just me? I got somewhat of a soft spot for her :)

  55. Benjamin


    You’re not taking into account the thrust-to-power ratio of the engine. You look at the force required and then determine the power needed for a given setup; just having a given amount of energy doesn’t guarantee you’ll succeed.

  56. Since the shutdown of Geocities by Yahoo, the page you are linking to no longer exists. Fortunately that site is one of the ones ReoCities managed to get a copy of:

  57. icemith

    Wow, I’m glad I clicked onto this blog, but noticed it was all 2009 comments, (doh… 2 years ago… exactly what the anniversary was about, except @59 Stephan, and realised that I could, belatedly, put my two bits in.

    We have come a long way from the first TV series (in the 60s) of serious Sci Fi, ie, “Andromeda”. (I think that was the full name of the B&W British production. But could have been “A for Andromeda”.)

    Definitely my first Sci Fi TV serial, and anything but cheesy, it even had maths integrated in the script, and the title character as developed (grown), into a beautiful woman. (Wasn’t it Julie Christie?) I wonder if the Beeb would re-commission it in modern form…. or have they?

    Also I’m thinking of another old series, this time American TV, forgot the name, but Julie Nermarr was a bio-robot who had trouble with understanding real human illogical speech utterances, with the response, “That does not compute!” Bob Cummings could also have been in it.

    As for actual cheesy series, yeah, there have been a few, there will always be, as in other program series. We get the “me too”, syndrome, “I can make one, only cheaper, and the network has to” etc, (try to not be left out), and so the trend continues.

    Even though the dialog may be predictable and some times not even original, the scenery familiar/outlandish/improbable or just ridiculous, the make-up only extends to variations of facial artifacts, and the storylines familiar, we have to see just how the series progresses, and if no improvement in a few weeks, then it gets the flick. That is if the network doesn’t get in first.

    I still maintain that most of the epic TV, and Movie Blockbusters, (you know which ones), are really only “Space Westerns”! They are often recycled Western scripts, or could have been.

    But I do admire the imagination involved in producing the various space craft as developed over the years. I remember downloading that marvelous wall poster referred to in @16… ND, thanks again for it, and @ 22… ND, for the extras. Where is that actual poster available? Is there a HD version available?

    Given what we are discovering recently about our Universe, and the wildly improbable worlds that seem to be out there, maybe some of the cheesy ideas and renditions could become reality, then again the absolute reality could be that we ARE alone and unique. Even then we would have our imagination to comfort and entertain us.



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar