The Borg Had it Right

By Sam Lowry | July 1, 2008 1:53 pm

A recent episode of the “This American Life” podcast (episode #329: “Nice Work If You Can Get It”) opens with an amusing rundown of what astronauts actually spend their time doing now that there are almost no manned spaceflights. The answer was mostly: go to lots of meetings in Houston.

The more interesting revelation was that the astronauts get their vicarious space thrills by watching Farscape and Battlestar Galactica. Aside from being “hugely jealous” of the capacity for interstellar space flight, one of the astronauts pointed out that classic BSG Viper/Star Wars X-Wing Fighter design is pretty dumb:

“All of those shows assume that there is some sort of magical gravity thing so that when you’re in your vehicle, you know, everybody’s all walkin’ on the floor. Well, not in our space program.

“They’ve got fighter jet flying. They have pointy noses and wings and they make them look like fighters. None of that is any advantage when there’s no atmosphere.

“You could be a box and have the same maneuverability. The Borg had it right. They’re a big cube and they’re perfectly maneuverable, as opposed to the little star fighter with the pointed nose and the wings and the engine in the back.”


Comments (2)

  1. Stephen Cass

    Ah, but clearly this astronaut has never been in a space shooting match! Maneuverability isn’t the only issue. In combat, you want to present as small a target to your opponent as possible, and a good way to minimize the surface area visible to an enemy for a given volume of spaceship is to be a long and skinny cylinder — the basic shape of your Viper or X-Wing! (Another option is to flatten your volume into a thin disc or crescent–Cylon raider style).

  2. Cubes and the like are fine so long as your spaceship always remains in space. But those BSG Vipers and Star Wars X-Wings sometimes touch down on planetary surfaces, passing through a lot of atmosphere along the way. I wouldn’t want to attempt such a thing with a Borg-like cube (unless, that is, I had some way of teleporting the whole ship down to the surface). Even starships sometimes touch down in the Star Trek universe–ever see the ridiculous landing legs on Voyager?

    Since spaceships can be practically unlimited in size or form, it actually makes total sense to give some aerodynamic shape to a fighter (or a whole ship) if it ever, even on very rare occasion, will need to be able to fly through an atmosphere. So I’d argue that those pointy Vipers, with small cross section and plausible aerodynamics, are a pretty smart design solution.

    The magical gravity thing…well, that’s a whole other matter.


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