Friday, July 08, 2011

Blake's Seven and the symmetry of spaceships

What do most spaceships have in common with most animals and racing cars? That's right, they possess approximate mirror symmetry.

If you think of classic spaceships, like the X-Wing Fighter from Star Wars, the Enterprise in Star Trek, the Eagle in Space 1999, or even NASA's Space Shuttle, they all exhibit bilateral mirror symmetry: slice the ship in half down a longitudinal plane, and the portion on the left side will be a mirror image of the portion on the right side.

There are several exceptions from modern science-fiction, but the classic era of spaceship design features one prominent anomaly: the Liberator from Blake's Seven.

This craft is noteworthy for two principal reasons. Firstly, it features an (approximate) discrete threefold symmetry around its longitudinal axis. It therefore has no dorsal or ventral side, unlike most spaceships, animals and racing cars. Hence, there is no sense in which the Liberator is ever prostrate or supine. But secondly, its central design theme is essentially a dome and minaret structure.

Thus, aesthetically speaking, the Liberator is the first ever mosque in space.


Jonathan said...

The Liberator exhibits bilateral mirror symmetry as well as threefold symmetry.

Probably the most well know asymmetric spacecraft is the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.

Don't humans have a natural attraction to symmetry, particularly of the face but also of the body?

Gordon McCabe said...

Excellent point about the Millennium Falcon. Although you could argue it's actually got a very high level of bilateral mirror symmetry if you just neglect the cockpit, which almost looks grafted on.