Atomic Rockets

von Braun Moonship

RocketCat sez

Oh, just look at that large silver globe scientifically packed with plenty of von Braun goodness! This little honey is from the famous Collier's Man Will Conqure Space Soon! series. We coudda had this back in the fifties, for cryin' out loud!

  • Deck 1: Control Deck. Workstations for Captain, Pilot, Flight Engineer, and Radio Operator. Telescope in the center is for taking navigational sightings through the iris-shuttered astrodome. Note ladderway on the right.
  • Deck 2: Navigation Deck. The large table is the chart recorder. An analog device indicates the spacecraft's current position, which can be compared to the planned position printed on the chart. On the right is the auxiliary astrodome and telescope/tracking camera. On the left is the shower, placed here due to lack of any other place to put it.
  • Deck 3: Crew Deck. The normal crew complement is 30, but the quarters has contour chairs for 60 in case another spacecraft in the expedition has a catastrophic failure. The spare chairs are folded up on the walls and stanchions. To the right is the ship's mess and kitchen.
  • Deck 4: Storage Deck. General storage. Also contains the main electrical distribution panel. The toilet is also located here (but isn't shown).
  • Deck 5: Consumables Deck. Oxygen, drinking water, grey water.
  • Deck 6: Main air lock.

Tintin's Moon-Rocket

RocketCat sez

Most of us ugly Americans have never heard of Tintin. Which is pathetic since it is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. The characters might look a bit comical but the science is hard enough to bend titanium bars around.

    1. Radio and radar aerial
    2. Reserve tanks
    3. Control cabin
    4. Living quarters
    5. Stores
    6. Storage tanks, air, water, etc.
    7. Auxiliary engine propellant tanks
    8. Air lock and storage compartments
    9. Vehicle and storage deck
    10. Anti-radiation shield
    11. Motors
    12. Exhaust nozzle
    13. Stabilizing fins
    14. Landing-support fairing
    15. Shock absorbers
    1. Passenger air-lock
    2. Protective-clothing room
    3. Cargo-loading air-lock
    4. Air-lock control room
    1. Control desk
    2. Air-refrigeration plant
    3. Work table
    4. Observation equipment
    5. Laboratory
    1. Electric cooker
    2. Refrigerator
    3. Air purifier
    4. Bunks
    5. Lockers

Readers in the US might not recognize the Tintin graphic novels, but everybody in Europe has read them. This nuclear powered rocket was quite well researched for the time. The main engine is apparently a NERVA style solid nuclear thermal rocket fueled with plutonium. The launch site has a breeder reactor used to cook uranium 238 into plutonium for fuel rods. The rocket lifts off and lands with an auxillary chemical rocket fueled by nitric acid and aniline, so as to prevent contaminating the ground with radiation.

The authors of the indispensable Spaceship Handbook did find one minor mistake. The astronauts lie prone on their acceleration couches, which is pretty much the worst position possible (second only to standing on their heads).

The authors of the Spaceship Handbook suggests that this was due to Mr. Rémy misinterpreting the diagram of the Werner von Braun moonship. In that diagram, the crew members who need to monitor the chart recorder are prone, but everybody in their acceleration stations are properly on their backs.

Anyway this is a minor flaw in a design that gets it right.

Blue Max Studio's "RG-403 Heinlein"

Artist Ray McVay has studied realistic spacecraft design in general (and this webiste in particular), and has produced some very scientifically accurate spacecraft deck plans. He has some commercially available plans suitable for use in role-playing-games. This images do not do them justice, you'll have to check out the real thing.

The Outrim Queen

The Outrim Queen is featured in Outrim by J. Mauloni, a most scientifically accurate webcomic.

2038 Space Ship

Interestingly enough, this design actually has the theatre and dining rooms inside a huge spinning centrfuge, for artificial gravity.

  1. Pilot and Robot Control Rooms
  2. Stairway & Corridor Foyer
  3. Navigation Rooms
  4. Freight & Storage Sections
  5. Lifeboat & Launching Tube
  6. Passenger Staterooms
  7. Gymnasium & Recreation Rooms
  8. Fuel Tanks
  9. Oxy-Hydrogen Mixing Chamber
  10. Detonator Caps
  11. Major Explosion Chamber
  12. Tapered Main Rocket Tube
  13. Auxiliary Rocket Tube
  14. Engine Rooms
  15. Steering Rocket
  16. Air Conditioning Equipment
  17. Oxygenation Chamber
  18. Water Condenser Units
  19. Magnetic Gravity Rotors
  20. Theatre & Lounge
  21. Dining Rooms
  22. Gravity Main Deck Bearing
  23. Main Shaft & Elevator
  24. Auxiliary Blast Chamber
  25. Insulation Hull
  26. Atmospheric Rudders

Space Ship of the Future

  1. Flight Deck
  2. Pilot
  3. Radio Operator
  4. Astro-navigator
  5. Dinning Room
  6. Passenger Cabins
  7. Booster rockets for control and landing
  8. Atomic reaction propulsion unit
  9. Generators
  10. Fuel reserves for return journey
  11. Luggage hold
  12. Lounge
  13. Crew quarters
  14. Look-out for crew
  15. Engineer's deck

Exploring the Moon by Rocket Ship

Venus Rocket

Winged Interplanetary Spacecraft

Not too scientifically plausible spacecraft design, featured in a children's magazine. Not surprisingly it has the "Confusing-a-spaceship-with-an-airbus" fallacy. See the tiny "unmanned scout" on the ship's back? Its a remotely piloted reconnaissance drone. Isn't it cute?

Space Scout

RocketCat sez

Oh, I remember studying this ship when I was a kitten, in the poster hanging on my wall. The poster was based on work from Frank Tinsley, one of the gods of spaceship art. It does have a couple of questionable design decisions, but the blasted thing is more scientifically accurate than 99% of media science fiction. There is nothing quite as mentally stimulating as a good cut-away diagram. You can really put yourself in the picture.

This is from a book entitled The Answer to the Space Flight Challenge by Frank Tinsley (1958).

Noted rocket engineer G. Harry Stine designed this vehicle in the early 1950's. He figured that manned space stations would be controlled by the nation that built them. Therefore a scientific station could be instantly transformed into a martial moon at the sound of a trumpet! Horrors! Armed with atomic missiles, they could strike any spot on Earth. What a hideous threat to freedom and democracy the world over.

The space scout is designed to deal with this menace, blowing up hostile stations with atomic missiles before they can strike. Without it, the world stands unarmed and helpless before the threats of a technologically advanced dictator.

At least according to Mr. Stine. In reality it would probably be far more cost effective to just launch flight after flight of surface-to-orbit missiles until the evil space station was vaporized.

The spacecraft flies nose first in space, driven by the liquid fuel rocket engine. It flies tail first in the air, driven by the three jet engines. This means that the jet engine exhaust goes "upward", that is, in the opposite direction of the rocket exhaust.

The jet engines are mounted on "M" shaped supersonic wings fitted with conventional airplane control surfaces. Note that the control surfaces are on the upper edge of the wing, not the lower. The elongated nose cone of each jet engine doubles as a landing leg. Velbor points out that this is a poor design decision. A hard landing will transmit shock directly to the delicate mechanism of the jet engine turbines. They may explosively delaminate, shooting turbine blades at everything in line with the turbine plane. Which you may have noticed includes the fuel tanks.

The tail of the spacecraft is bulbous to increase the heat radiating surface area, and corrugated with liquid oxygen cooling pipes. In other words it is trying to do the same job as the heat shield on the base of the Apollo command module.

The three transparent blisters on the flight deck help the pilot to land by providing full ground visibility via a system of reflecting mirrors.

With the three man crew, two are always on duty while the third sleeps. In combat conditions all three are on duty. The craft is designed for a three-day mission, with a maximum life-support endurance of a week.

Mr. Stine later developed the design further into the "Mars Snooper." This added a petal like shields closing over the liquid fuel rocket engine bell during re-entry, and a more elongated passenger section. One difference is that this design uses a nuclear thermal rocket instead of a chemical one. The reactor also runs the jet engines, which are more like an air-fed nuclear ramjet. In 1971, the Estes model rocket company made a model rocket based on the Mars Snooper. My father had one. I always wondered why the tail fins were "M" shaped.


This nuclear-fueled reconnaissance craft is preparing to land on Mars' outermost satellite, Deimos — 12,500 miles away from the "red planet" (center) and 35 million miles away from the Earth.

Our spaceship is designed to fly in two directions—nose first as a space rocket and tail-first as a ramjet airplane. Propulsion for both is provided by a single atomic heat source, reacting with hydrogen for rocket thrust, and with atmosphere to power the ramjets.

As the ship approaches the Earth's atmosphere, it assumes a tail-first attitude. The "petal doors" enclose the rocket nozzle, and the ship is transformed into a high speed, ramjet airplane with M-shaped wings. Control fins are located in the nose of the craft, near the crew's quarters.

From Mars Snooper American Bosch Arma, (1959)

Tinsley Photon Rocket

This is a design for a photon-drive spacecraft, boosted into orbit by a chemical rocket. Note that the designer is a tad unclear on the concept. The photon drive is fed gigawatts of electricty by the fusion reactor, while the poor ship relies upon a crude solar boiler for its internal power. Nowadays photon drives are considered impractical, due to their ridiculous power requirements (three hundred megawatts for one lousy Newton of thrust).

For the diagram to the right:

  1. Bridge deck
  2. Cabin deck
  3. Airtight access hatches
  4. Retractable solar steam plant
  5. Electronic navigational and communication gear
  6. Stores, spacesuits, special gear, etc.
  7. Breathing oxygen
  8. Water supply/fusion fuel
  9. Fusion reactor (quaintly and mistakenly label a "nuclear pile")
  10. Reactor controls
  11. Radiation manifold
  12. Photon drive
  13. Tripod legs.

Discovery from 2001 A Space Odyssey

Blueprint Attempt

RocketCat sez

Ya gotta include the Discovery! Only the coolest movie spacecraft ever in the history of cinema. Blasted thing looks like it came from a NASA study or flew out of a Robert McCall painting (actually McCall did paint it afterwards). But this is to be expected from a ship designed by Sir Arthur C. Clarke himself. The only thing is lacks is heat radiators, but that's not Clarke's fault. He originally included them but was over-ruled by the art department.

In the two blueprints above, it shows the command module as being in line with the centrifuge hub. This is incorrect, because it would force the command module windows to be along the sphere's equator. As you can see from the photos the windows are north of the equator.

Cyrille Castellant

In these blueprints by Cyrille Castellant, the command module is offset from the hub axis with a slanted corridor. However, the designer makes the pod bay warehouse vertical instead of horizontal.

Kiyoshi Hiura

This marvelous reconstruction is made by a talented CGI artist named Kiyoshi Hiura. Below is the Babelfish translation of the relevant blog post (from Japanese into Broken English) and a translation by Michael Bianco.

Babelfish translation

Looking “the traveling of movie, at 2001 outer space” internal constitution of the [deisukabari] number probably has just become how? Artificial gravity (centrifugal force) it stays and the residential area how probably has been settled somewhere? You think that with the person who had doubt it is many.

As for the design figure of the [deisukabari] number when it was abolished, with thing, as for accurate structure you do not understand in regrettable thing. Here the next rough information

  • As for sphere of head about diameter 12m
  • Artificial gravity (centrifugal force) it stays, as for diameter of the residential area about 10m
  • As for diameter of pod about 2m

With, it presumed the internal constitution of the [deisukabari] number from each scene of the movie and tried drawing up the CG model.

Bianco's translation

How in the heck is the inside of the Discovery "deisukabari" (as seen in 2001 A Space Odyssey) configured? Where and how is the artificial gravity (centrifugal force) crew quarters situated? I think a lot of people have these questions.

Unfortunately, the plans for the Discovery have been lost, so we don't know the exact configuration. Here are the basic facts:

  • The spherical bow/head of the ship has a diameter of about 12 meters
  • The artificial gravity (centrifugal force) crew quarters has a diameter of about 10 meters
  • The diameter of the pods are about 2 meters

I've conjectured on the internal configuration from these facts and from (watching) each scene of the film, and built this CG model.

Internal Configuration

It is the figure which was seen from port side.

Picture of the Discovery as seen from the port side.

There is artificial gravity staying residential area in the form which parallels to the structure of muffler condition of the sphere rear. There is an air lock and equipment and material retention room in the floor of the pod bay. The equipment and material retention room is installed somewhat slantingly. It is the room of 8 prisms which remove the exchange part of AE35 unit. There is an air lock in the kind of form which strikes with the equipment and material retention room slantingly. Bowman there is no helmet with is the room which jumps.

The artificial gravity crew quarters (light blue) lies along the scarf/muffler shape on the back half of the sphere [the author previously refers to the sphere module of the Discovery as a head; the scarf/muffler reference is apparently an extended metaphor, so a less literal but more accurate translation translation might be: ...crew quarters lies along/on the tapering neck at the rear of the sphere module]. On the pod bay floor are the airlock (dark blue) and the equipment storage room (green). The equipment storage room is set at a somewhat oblique angle. It is the octagonal room from which the crew retrieved the replacement AE35 unit. The airlock seems to run into the equipment storage room at an oblique angle. This is the room into which Bowman leapt without a helmet.

It is the figure which was seen from above. There is a room (in figure yellow) which, even the switch room it should call in rear of the cockpit there is a passage and an intersection section (purple) in that rear. In the intersection section the switch room, the passage from port, the passage to artificial gravity staying residential area and the passage to the control room of starboard lower part cross. Furthermore, there is also an entrance to the memory room of HAL in the switch room.

This is a picture of the Discovery as seen from above. Behind the cockpit, there is what we could call the switch room (pictured as yellow) (ed note: Switch room is labeled "HAL logic room" in blueprint above), and behind this is a corridor and hub [literally intersection room] (purple). The hub is where the switch room and port- side corridor, the corridor leading to the crew quarters, and the starboard-side leading to the control room intersect. (ed note: hub is labeled "central air lock" in blueprint above) There is also the hatch leading to Hal's Memory Room in the switch room. (ed note: Mr. Kiyoshi seems to think that there is a purple corridor parallel to the HAL logic room, I am unconvinced that it exists.)

It is the figure which was seen from starboard side.

This is a picture of the Discovery as seen from the starboard side.

There is the memory room of HAL in the starboard side cockpit floor. There is a control room in the pod bay floor. There is a ladder to the cockpit floor in the inner part of the control room.

On the starboard side is the cockpit floor with HAL's memory room (red) being on this same floor. The pod bay floor has the control room (ed note: labeled "Pod Bay Control Room" in blueprint above). Next to the control room is a ladder which leads to the cockpit floor (ed note: labeled "Main Ladder" in blueprint above).

Movement in the Film

Bowman perceiving to the pool aviator being let flow, tries probably to go to the pod bay from the cockpit. In the picture, the seat it stands, " gets off " the ladder to the port rear. (Because it is kind of picture where the front is after to rear it is shape which " it gets off ") (From port as for movement to starboard side in picture it does not appear)

When Bowman notices that Astronaut Poole is being swept out into space, he moves from the cockpit to the pod bay. As pictured, he stands up from his seat and descends a ladder that takes him portside and back. (The front [of the cockpit] appears to become up in this image, so going back/aft would appear as "going down"/"descending") (ed note: in other scense, the front of the cockpit is shown as "forwards" instead of "up". This is because unsophisticated movie audience cannot understand that rockets are not boats) (The move from port to starboard is not shown) (ed note: The CG artist seems to think that there is a purple corridor parallel to the HAL logic room, I am unconvinced that it exists. I think that Bowman simply flew down the center of the HAL logic room.)

With the following scene it gets off the ladder which is connected to the starboard control room. And it goes to the pod bay. (Because it is difficult to see, it abbreviated pod)

In the next scene, he is descending the ladder connected to the starboard side control room. Then, he proceeds to the pod bay. (The pods have been removed for clarity)

With the [ri] which is the [ku] of air lock thrust, Bowman who enters from the air lock goes through the pod bay, the ladder of the control room inner part rises entering the control room. It moves to the passage intersection section from the stairway.

As for when he enters the airlock (ed note: without a helmet), Bowman, after entering the airlock, crosses/traverses the pod bay, enters the pod control room, and then climbs the ladder next to the control room. From these steps [ladder], he goes to the hub (ed note: central air lock).

With the following scene from the passage intersection section it appears in the switch room, takes the key, keeps entering to the memory room of HAL.

In the next scene, we see the switch room (Hal logic room) from the hub (central air lock). Bowman takes a key and enters HAL's memory room.

Diameter in sphere of the head was designated as 12m, but really there is about 13m because with, you think. We want 12.5m at least. In addition, as for diameter of pod that you think whether it is not about 1.9m. When structure and artificial gravity (centrifugal force) of muffler condition of the neck it stays and the residential area will be by chance, there is a possibility of having relationship. Perhaps it is settled in the muffler section. Structure of the passage intersection section it continues to be puzzle. Because the passage to artificial gravity staying residential area from the cockpit floor a little is below, the intersection section means to connect the mouth where height is different.

With movie “2010” as for the [deisukabari] number, the kind of revolution which turns over was done. This because revolution of artificial gravity staying residential area stops, is assumed that it is something due to the moment. But, how seeing, the fact that arranging artificial gravity staying residential area in such direction means you think that it is not possible. The top of the cockpit is unreasonable and, also between of the cockpit and the pod bay and under pod [be] [i] are unreasonable.

The front sphere's diameter was made to be 12m, but in fact I think it is about 13 meters. At the very least, we want to be 12.5m. Also, I'm thinking 'Shouldn't the diameter of the pods be about 1.9m instead of 2m' ? It is possible that the connection/relationship between the scarf shaped structure at the neck [of the forward module] and the crew quarters is incidental (ed note: it is unclear if the centrifuge is located in the scarf by chance or by design). It may or may not be situated in/on the scarf-like part. The configuration of the hub remains a mystery. The corridor to the artificial gravity crew quarters is a little below the floor of the cockpit, so the hub would be connected to corridors and hatches set at different heights (ed note: The centrifuge corridor has to be centered on the long axis of the Discovery, which is a little below the level of the cockpit deck. The hub will have to accomodate this. In the Castellant blueprint, the hub and the centrifuge corridor are connected by a sloping passage.)

In the movie 2010, the Discovery is rotating in a head-over-heels/somersault manner. This would entail having to stop the rotation of the artificial gravity crew quarters. However, which ever way you look at it, I think it would be impossible to use the artificial gravity crew quarters with this sort of orientation. Moving up out of the cockpit, moving between the cockpit and pod bay, and going down into the pod bay would all likewise be impossible. (ed note: I believe that Mr. Kiyoshi misunderstands. In 2010, the somersault motion of the Discovery is not by design. He is correct that it would make movement through the ship to be impossible. According to the novel, the Discovery is turning head-over-heels because the centrifuge has come to a halt and transfered its angular momentum to the entire ship. However, having said that, it seems to me that would make the ship spin on its long axis, not somersaulting.)


Command Module

Main Ladder

Pod Bay Control Room

Main Pod Bay

Pod Bay Warehouse

Exterior Air Lock

HAL Logic Memory Center


Darrell Romick Ion Rocket

The Vulture

The Satellite

The Spinner

The Comet