Dictionary of Spacecraft Terms in Science Fiction
(Technovelgy items at top: skip down to News)


Author (Publication Date)

Assault Ship
A one-way, one-use spacecraft for depositing troops at the scene of a space battle.

Joe Haldeman (1974)
Broomstick - move in space
Device to ease movement in a zero-gravity environment.

Arthur C. Clarke (1952)
Broomstick Speedster
A two-seater craft capable of spaceflight; it used radiant power to achieve orbit.

Robert Heinlein (1942)
Can City - spinning space habitat
A cylindrical space habitat.

Dan Simmons (1989)
City Ship
A generation ship, a spacecraft that carries a people to another star.

Julian May (1953)
Commute Ship
Spacecraft used for traversing daily grind between Earth and the planet you work on.

Philip K. Dick (1954)
A spacecraft for traveling through time and space.

Donald Wandrei (1933)
Death Star - that's no moon
The logical endpoint of a galactic empire.

George Lucas (1976)
A huge flying saucer.

Nat Schachner (1932)
Eros Ship-Planetoid
A vast cylindrical ship, long thought to be a planetoid.

Will Garth (1938)
Escape Pod (Life Pod, Boat Pod) - check the pod, Darth
A small ship used solely as a "life boat."

George Lucas (1976)
Ether Ship
A space-going ship.

W.S. Lach-Szyrma (1886)
Flying Saucer - alien spacecraft
Spacecraft flown by the androgynes of Titan - under control of the Puppetmasters.

Robert Heinlein (1951)
Flying Wing - Northrup's all-metal dream
A V-shaped plane capable of flight to the edge of the atmosphere.

E.E. 'Doc' Smith (1934)
General Products Hull - impervious key to space travel
Nearly indestructible outer skin for spaceships; pick your hull size and put what you want inside.

Larry Niven (1966)
Enormous starship used by the Spacing Guild for interstellar travel.

Frank Herbert (1965)
Jet-Down - explore planets
A spacecraft able to explore planetary surfaces.

Isaac Asimov (1988)
Joy-boat Junior - a private space yacht
A private space yacht, capable of suborbital journeys.

Robert Heinlein (1941)
A small space-worthy craft that can be jettisoned from a larger ship, to save its crew.

E.E. 'Doc' Smith (1931)
An emergency escape or survival craft.

Ed Earl Repp (1940)
Living Space Ship
A space ship made of a living substance, in this case cellulose.

Murray Leinster (1935)
A ship that uses magnetic fields to catch the solar wind for propulsion.

Michael Flynn (1998)
Mass-Conversion Ship
A spacecraft that uses the ultimate in fuel sources.

Robert Heinlein (1950)
Bruce Sterling (1985)
Michael (Orion Ship) - atomic pulse rocket
A spacecraft using nuclear bombs for propulsion.

Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle) (1985)
Mobile Armor
Heavilly armed spacecraft with limbs.

Yoshiyuki Tomino (1979)
Mother Ship - first use of expression
A large spacecraft that serves as home base for other (usually smaller) ships.

John W. Campbell (1930)
A ship that uses an Ixian field to be effectively invisible.

Frank Herbert (1984)
Private Space Cruiser
A fully space-worthy ship under private ownership.

Edmond Hamilton (1928)
Projectile-Vehicle - Verne's spacecraft
A projectile, or shot, capable of enclosing passengers and being safely hurled to the moon by an enormous cannon.

Jules Verne (1867)
Ram Field - tweaked Bussard Ramjet
A specialized version of the hydrogen-gathering field for a Bussard Ramjet.

Larry Niven (1973)
Ramrobot - automated space exploration
An autonomous interstellar exploration craft using gathered hydrogen for fuel.

Larry Niven (1967)
Retro-Rockets - Verne invented them!
Small boosters to provide a thrust counter to the current velocity of the spacecraft, slowing it down or stopping its progress altogether.

Jules Verne (1867)
Rocket-Powered Space Flight - very early description
A device that could power a man from the surface of the Earth to that of the Moon.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1657)
Sargasso Asteroid - scavenger planetoid
A planetoid built from natural rock and the salvaged wreckage of space craft.

Alfred Bester (1956)
Seven Vane Starship
A faster-than-light ship with seven vanes of energy controlled by human nervous systems.

Samuel R. Delany (1968)
Ships With Legs
Space ships with mechanical limbs for walking the Earth.

Philip Nowlan (w/D. Calkins) (1929)
A space craft that travels point to point in space.

Theodore Sturgeon (1950)
Shuttle Ship - early Space Shuttle
A spacecraft that could take off from a planet, rendezvous with an object in orbit, and fly back to the surface like a glider.

Robert Heinlein (1951)
A small spaceship designed for short journeys.

Author Unknown (1967)
A spacecraft designed for use by one person.

Larry Niven (1969)
Slower than lightspeed spacecraft used for interstellar colonization.

Larry Niven (1973)
Solar Yacht
A space craft whose motive power is light pressure on a solar sail.

Arthur C. Clarke (1963)
Space Ark - moving to another world
A very large ship used to transport a large group of people.

N.B. Wilkinson (1948)
Space Freighter - for hauling big loads
A large spacecraft used for heavy cargo; can lift off from the Earth or other planets.

Edwin K. Sloat (1932)
Space Liner - first use of phrase
A large, passenger-carrying space ship.

Miles J. Breuer (1931)
Space Shuttle
A space-going vessel for trips from the surface of a planet to a ship in orbit, and back.

Frederic Arnold Kummer, Jr. (1940)
Space Tugs - used to tow space barges
Early use of familiar ocean vehicle in space.

Eric Frank Russell (1942)
Space Wagon
A space vehicle without a cabin, used for short-range towing.

Murray Leinster (1953)
Space-Boat (Rocket Boat)
Small craft designed for descent and then take-off from a planetary surface.

Murray Leinster (1956)
A small spacecraft sometimes used as a life boat.

V.E. Thiessen (1947)
Space-ship - first use in fiction
A space-going vessel.

John Jacob Astor IV (1894)
Interplanetary spacecraft for the well-to-do.

Edmond Hamilton (1931)
Spinner Ship
Pinwheel rockets created centrifugal forces like gravity.

Philip Nowlan (w/D. Calkins) (1929)
T.I.E. Fighter (Tie Fighter) - the bane of the rebel resistance in Star Wars
A highly maneuverable fighter spacecraft using an ion drive propulsion system.

George Lucas (1976)
Teakettle - booster rocket
A standard rocket (uses hydrogen as a booster to leave the atmosphere).

Robert Heinlein (1956)
Torchship - a tail of flame
A spaceship capable of high acceleration.

Robert Heinlein (1953)
Tourist Rocket
A cheap, unpleasant way to do space travel.

Frederik Pohl (w/CM Kornbluth) (1952)
Transparent Spherical Ship
A huge sphere of quartz housing a platform for space use.

Nat Schachner (w. AL Zagat) (1931)
A single, enormous tree grown as a spacecraft.

Dan Simmons (1989)
Tripod - inhuman robotic ships from Mars!
An enormous metallic robot.

H.G. Wells (1898)
Tug Space-going version of the ocean vehicle
A small space vehicle, used to provide a push or pull to objects floating in space without propulsion systems.

William Gibson (1984)
Vibration-Propelled Cruiser - waves in spacetime
A spacecraft with a propulsion system relying on waves in spacetime itself.

Edmond Hamilton (1928)
A small vehicle used in transporting people around the moon's surface.

Ray Cummings (1936)
Weightlessness - true science fiction discovery
The state experienced in free fall; a space traveler's weight is apparently reduced to zero.

Jules Verne (1867)
Winged Rocket Shuttle
A sort of plane that briefly reached space while traveling between points on a planet.

Robert Heinlein (1951)

Related Science Fiction in the News

Europa Clipper Plate Carries A Special Message
'...a universal cryptogram yet it is one which can be interpreted by any intelligent creature on any planet in the Solar System!' -
(re: John Edwards, 3/16/2024 )
China Wants To Build Mega Space Ships
'Don't do anything to endanger our shipping privileges...' - Frank Herbert, 1965.
(re: Frank Herbert, 8/13/2021 )
Dream Of Building Your Own Rocket?
Fiorello Bodoni, you inspire all of us.
(re: Ray Bradbury, 11/22/2017 )
Used Dragon Cargo Spacecraft Will Fly Again
'the overstrained meters made the smaller craft skittish as a young horse...' - Robert Heinlein
(re: Robert Heinlein, 5/8/2017 )
Laser-Powered Spacecraft To Explore The Solar System
'Whoever launched it fired a laser cannon... for about forty-five years, so the intruder would have a beam to travel on...'- Niven/Pournelle, 1974.
(re: Niven/Pournelle, 6/19/2015 )
SKYLON Space Plane Gets Boost
'They were more airplane than spaceship...'- Robert Heinlein, 1951.
(re: Robert Heinlein, 7/9/2013 )
Europe's Cheops To Look For Habitable Planets
'I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.'- Edmond Hamilton, 1936.
(re: Edmond Hamilton, 10/25/2012 )
SpaceX Dragon First Private Craft To Dock With ISS
'Why, the ship wasn't a proper deep-space craft at all.'- Robert Heinlein, 1941.
(re: Robert Heinlein, 10/11/2012 )
SpaceX Dragon To Land On Any Planet
A space craft should be able to 'land on its fins' and take off again, don't you think?
(re: Robert Heinlein, 4/23/2011 )
Ikaros Solar Sail Craft Photo Of Venus
Impressive proof of the value of solar sail-powered vessels.
(re: Cordwainer Smith, 1/26/2011 )
X-37B/OTV Unmanned Spacecraft
This unmanned military spacecraft is scheduled for launch on April 19th; it will enter orbit, function for up to 270 days and then land on Earth autonomously.
(re: Gene Roddenberry, 3/16/2010 )
'Jules Verne' ATV Launch Video
Very nice work by the ESA on the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle - can you think of an earlier fictional reference to a vehicle capable of automated space docking?
(re: Gene Roddenberry, 3/9/2008 )
Mercury 'Spider' Has Fans Seeing Babylon 5 Shadow Ships
The mysterious spider feature on Mercury - there's nothing like it elsewhere in the solar system.
(re: Various, 1/31/2008 )
SpaceShipTwo Spaceliners From Virgin Galactic
Remarkable aeronautical designs from Virgin Galactic take you to the very edge of space.
(re: Various, 1/23/2008 )
Lorentz-Actuated Orbit Spacecraft May Ride Planetary Magnetic Fields
Interesting proposal by NASA to fund research on the last known propellantless propulsion method.
(re: Robert Adams, 3/15/2007 )
Too Many Mars Missions Planned?
Very funny spoof of the increasing traffic on Mars.
(re: Various, 12/30/2006 )
Bigelow Genesis I Inflatable First Look
Larry Niven's inflatable space module really works.
(re: Larry Niven, 7/14/2006 )
Cosmos 1 Sets Solar Sail - Update
Cosmos 1, the world's first solar sail spacecraft, is scheduled to be launched on March 1, 2005 - Car Sagan's birthday. The mission of the flight is to perform the first controlled solar sail flight.
(re: Jules Verne, 6/23/2005 )
Ion Drive Spacecraft Also Takes Good Pictures
SMART-1, the European Space Agency ship equipped with ion drive propulsion, is now sending back great pictures from the lunar surface. SMART-1 is the first craft to return to the moon in over 5 years.
(re: George Lucas, 1/26/2005 )
Green Comet Machholz - Hopefully, Without Cometeers
In his 1936 classic The Cometeers, science fiction Grandmaster Jack Williamson writes of a sinister green comet; now you can look up and see one.
(re: Jack Williamson, 1/6/2005 )
Ticketed Passengers Only Aboard Soyuz ('TANSTAAFL' Says Roskosmos)
Russia's space agency Roskosmos announced that it would stop giving free rides to US astronauts beginning in 2006. US space shuttles have been grounded since February of 2003, when the shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry.
(re: Isaac Asimov, 1/4/2005 )
Delta IV Heavy Lifter - Space Freighters In Fact And In Fiction
The twenty-three story Delta IV Heavy rocket vehicle will go aloft sometime this week (if the weather holds).
(re: Robert Heinlein, 12/13/2004 )
Union Of Driver And Vehicle (and Astronaut And Spacecraft?)
Toyota has announced a concept vehicle that is seeks the union of car and driver. How about the union of astronaut and spacecraft?
(re: Samuel R. Delany, 12/7/2004 )
Pioneer Space Probes Unexpectedly Slow Down In Deep Space
once Pioneer 10 and 11 passed beyond the orbit of Uranus, the radio signals sent back by the aging craft have been shifted to progressively shorter wavelengths. This implies that they are decelerating slightly; no one knows why this is happening.
(re: Poul Anderson, 11/23/2004 )
SpaceShipOne - The First Strato-Yacht?
Is SpaceShipOne a modern incarnation of a Joy-boat Junior, from Methuselah's Children?
(re: Robert Heinlein, 10/6/2004 )
Genesis Pathfinder: Space Inflatable Module
Genesis Pathfinder is an inflatable space habitat scheduled to launch in November 2005. Genesis weighs in at 1,360 kilograms and is approximately 4.6 meters in length by 1.9 meters in diameter; this is a one-third scale model.
(re: Larry Niven, 5/31/2004 )
NASA's New Radiation Shielding First Proposed By John W. Campbell In 1936
NASA engineers are working on a clever new idea for shielding astronauts from cosmic rays - using the fuel and water needed for the journey for shielding. Just like John W. Campbell first proposed in 1936.
(re: John W. Campbell, 5/27/2004 )
SPHERES - Mini Satellites Fly In Formation
Rather than bet all the marbles on one large satellite, MIT undergraduates are trying a different strategy. The SPHERES project imagines lots of small volleyball-sized satellites flying together in formation, working in concert.
(re: Neal Stephenson, 4/15/2004 )






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