From novels to feature films, from TV series to video games, the presence of spaceships have been prevalent across all forms of the science fiction genre. With imaginative minds creating these fictional machines, some realistic and some farfetched, there are bound to be several that enthrall us unlike any others. What makes a great spaceship can be hard to define, though. Intriguing technological enhancements and mind bending paradoxes are sure to attract attention, but for some, their sheer massiveness will suffice. The coolest sci-fi spaceships encompass a wide variety of types like the ones mentioned above. Some you will be sure to recognize. Others are more obscure. All are among the greatest spaceships in all of sci-fi.
TARDIS from Doctor Who
Hailing from the planet Gallifrey, Dr. Who’s spaceship, the TARDIS, is an iconic piece of machinery that takes the form of a 1960s-style London police box. Despite this seemingly old-school vibe, the TARDIS has several features that make it arguably the most unique spacecraft of the bunch.
Put simply, the TARDIS (acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space) is a spaceship that operates on four dimensions. Assuming it is piloted by one that is skilled and knowledgeable, it can teleport its occupants to any point in time or space. Given these parameters, or lack thereof, the power of the TARDIS is nearly infinite. The only drawback is the ship’s unpredictability of teleportation when moving relatively short distances, which makes sense given the massive nature of the universe. The TARDIS more than makes up for this drawback by possessing a certain amount of sapience, which means it possesses wisdom, and the ability to act with judgement. This overarching feature grants users additional abilities, one of which being telepathy to communicate with other races. With so many logic-bending capabilities at its disposal, one must wonder whether the TARDIS is a spaceship, or something much, much more.
O'Neill-class ship from Stargate
Replacing the Bilskirnir-class ship for highest on Asgard’s favorites list of combat spacecraft is no easy task, but the O’Neill-class ship’s prowess on the battlespace made it seem like nothing.
It’s smooth lines and horizontal positioning, punctuated by two parallel projections that run perpendicular to the main body, make the O’Neill similar in appearance to its predecessor, but the similarities stop there. Despite being 1,500 meters in length, these ships have the maneuverability of a fighter-jet, allowing them to employ dog fighting tactics never before seen by a ship of such heft. In hull material, hyperdrive, and shielding, the O’Neill has nearly every other spacecraft beat. Where this ship shines though, is with its four ion guns, which are capable of decimating shields and destroying vaunted Replicator blocks, which were, until the O’Neill’s conception, able to withstand any attack from an energy-based weapon. Essentially, Asgard took every piece of technology they had and upgraded it several orders of magnitude better. What resulted was the O’Neill-type spacecraft.
USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) from Star Trek
With its iconic disk and cylinder design, along with all of the light years it has logged, it is no wonder that the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) is one of the greatest spacecraft in sci-fi history. Since the mid 1960s, this ship has set the standard for all spacecraft afterwards, paving a path to more realistic representations of space travel.
In many ways, the USS Enterprise is unique in the sense that it occupies a time frame very similar to our own. Constructed between 2243 and 2245, the USS Enterprise had to deal with many of the same problems that make space-travel today quite difficult. Once up in the stars, however, it thrust its way through uncharted space at blistering speeds. Using its impulse engines, the Enterprise was able to reach speeds of warp 8, which in layman’s terms is equivalent to approximately 512 times the speed of light. Photon torpedoes, phasers, and deflector shields round out the technology on this 725 meter spacecraft, making it truly a beauty ahead of its time. For that reason alone, the USS Enterprise is worthy of being named one of sci-fi’s greatest ships, let alone all the battles it has fought and all the conflict it has been a part of.
Heart of Gold from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Anyone who has read A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy knows that it is anything other than a conventional sci-fi novel. With a ridiculous plot line and even more farfetched conclusions (42), it would only make sense that its famous spaceship, The Heart of Gold, has an offbeat feature or two. It doesn’t disappoint.
With the relative shape of a shoe, the Heart of Gold already starts off weird. Inside, the walls are contoured and shaped at strange angles, making it a rather inefficient use of space. To top it off, the doors of the ship have feelings, expressing real emotion when opening and closing. The Heart of Gold’s signature feature though, is its use of the Infinite Improbability Drive. This device is used to cross large, interstellar distances in the tiniest unit of time imaginable, and its discovery was in fact by chance. When physicists concluded that generating an infinite improbability field capable of transporting a ship long distance was virtually impossible, it opened the way for an upstart student. Using that logic, he reasoned that if such a machine has virtual impossibility, it must have finite improbability, meaning it is possible to calculate how improbable it is. Upon these assertions and the completion of his ambitions, the student created the infinite improbability drive. Now, when the Heart of Gold’s drive reaches infinite improbability, it goes through every possible point in every possible universe simultaneously, allowing for travel to anywhere in literally no time at all. Fascinating and mind-bending stuff, no?
SSV Normandy SR-1 from Mass Effect
The hugely popular video game series’ flagship spacecraft, the SSV Normandy SR-1, possesses a similar charm to that of the USS Enterprise. Built in the year 2183 (in Mass Effect’s timeline), it is not the most scientifically advanced ship, yet it does have some features which make it one of sci-fi’s greatest.
Technically a prototype “deep scout” frigate, the Normandy SR-1, named after the Battle of Normandy in World War II, excels at reconnaissance missions to unstable regions. To help it in its job, it is equipped with an IES (internal emission sink) stealth system, which is far and away its defining feature. Compared to the absolute zero temperature of space, any routinely functioning ship would be considered a hot spot. This is regardless of whether the engines are running or not. By having a heat signature, other ships can pick up one’s location with temperature scanners. The IES, however, is able to temporarily store large amounts of heat in lithium heat sinks positioned within the hull, rendering the Normandy SR-1 invisible to any thermal tracking. Limitations occur when reaching speeds faster than light travels, but for its scouting and exploration purposes, the SSV Normandy SR-1 is the ultimate.
Normandy SR-2 from Mass Effect
The direct descendent of the SSV Normandy, Mass Effect’s Normandy SR-2 can be seen as its predecessor on steroids. First introduced in the second installment of the Mass Effect video game series, it has an attribute that makes it a particularly unique spaceship: customization.
The design of the SR-2 bears many resemblances to the first of its name, with the key difference being its size. It is twice as massive as the first Normandy ship, which allows it to have more firepower, with a drawback of less maneuverability and landing capabilities. Where the SR-2 really stands out though, is with its possibility of customization. When playing Mass Effect 2, you can buy upgrades to drastically improve the firepower, shields, sensors, fuel cells, armor, and much more for your SR-2. For example, you can research the Thanix Cannon upgrade for your ship, which is basically a weapon that uses an electromagnetic shield to shape and fire a stream of ultra hot molten metal at extreme speeds, with the end product looking like a bright blue beam of energy. What makes this aspect to the ship unique is that the number of surviving crew members on your ship varies depending on how you upgraded your spacecraft. Therefore, the way you treat it plays a big part in the success of future missions. This aspect of variability makes the SR-2 a truly noteworthy spaceship.
GSV Sleeper Service from Excession
The GSV (General Systems Vehicle) Sleeper Service is a gargantuan mobile habitat that is a part of the Culture, a fictional, space-based, Utopian mega-society that features some unorthodox but highly advanced technological achievements. Whereas there is some question over the sentience of the TARDIS from Doctor Who, nothing can be argued when it comes to the Sleeper Service’s realized capabilities, as it is treated as a spaceship and character in the novel.
The Sleeper Service, which measures 90 kilometers long, 60 kilometers wide, and 20 kilometers high, is already a noteworthy spaceship in its own right. Inside were various flora and fauna from a plethora of different areas throughout the galaxy, making it a habitat of sorts. While other GSV’s were used to house upwards of billions of people in their habitats, the Sleeper Service had just two. The two beings, along with the spacecraft itself, were able to create a fleet of warships numbering over 100,000, which demonstrates the Sleeper Service’s power as much more than just a spacecraft. It participates in humanlike actions, blurring the lines between living organism and ship. Clearly, it is one of sci-fi’s most intriguing figures.
UNSC Infinity from Halo
Out of all the sci-fi video games that exist, Halo is arguably the most prominent. It is only fitting then, that its main spaceship, the UNSC Infinity, be considered one of space-travel’s greatest.
At approximately 5.7 kilometers long, the Infinity is a thing to behold. Inside is capacity for a crew of just over 17,000, along with training grounds for Spartan-IV’s, UNSC’s technologically augmented supersoldiers. To make matters more interesting, the technology that went into creating the Infinity actually comes from a race of ancient extraterrestrial species that existed 100,000 years ago. These originators, known as the Forerunners, used to have a vast domain before their sudden disappearance from the galaxy. This makes the Infinity part relic to the past, and part modern war machine. Boasting 1,100 missile pods, among various other cannons, the UNSC Infinity is well equipped to face any adversary. This is essential, seeing as its true purpose was to beat back the Covenant, a theocratic hegemony controlled by several alien species, in the event that the earth was destroyed.
Death Star from Star Wars
To a casual fan of science fiction, the Death Star represents the pinnacle of spacecraft, if it can even be considered one. Its size is a fitting complement to the dark powers of the Galactic Empire; which may be experiencing a resurgence thanks to the Star Wars series’ continuation.
At 120 kilometers in diameter and spherical in shape, the Death Star is often at first mistaken for a small moon. In reality it is more a space station that a spacecraft, as evidenced by its palpable gravitational pull. Still, its mobility, crew of pilots, and weapons arsenal make it enough of a ship rather than a planet in its own right. Supporting a population of over 2 million personnel, many of which are combat-ready, the Death Star is massive. Its ability as a facilitator of ships and various missions allowed the Galactic Empire to reap great success in attaining a stranglehold over the galaxy. The Death Star’s most prominent feature, however, is its famous superlaser. Powered by large kyber crystals, the Death Star’s superlaser can obliterate entire planets, making it far and away one of the most powerful weapons across all of sci-fi. For this reason, the Death Star has played a sinister role in sci-fi since its conception.
USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Whereas the USS Enterprise was for exploration, the USS Defiant, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, was for warfare and armed escort. Developed from 23662370, the Defiant’s purpose was to counter the militant Dominion state of the Gamma Quadrant.
From the start, the efficacy and reliability of the Defiant was in question. In test runs, it performed poorly due to an overstocked arsenal of weapons and massive engines despite a rather slight frame. Still, it served admirably at Deep Space 9 and the Dominion War until its untimely destruction in the Second battle of Chin’toka. Its features that are worthy of note are its ablative armor, which disintegrates under enemy fire, allowing a more constant dispersal of directed energy, and its Romulan cloaking device. These two aspects to the Defiant, along with its battle-tested history, make it an important figure in one of sci-fi’s greatest sagas.
Red Dwarf from Red Dwarf
Despite being a part of a character-driven, British comedy of the same name, the Red Dwarf spaceship is more than worthy of note as one of the best in all of sci-fi.
Part of the Jupiter Mining Corporation, the Red Dwarf peruses the galaxy looking for asteroids to mine. Once an acceptable one is found, it attaches it to part of its 6 mile long hull, and begins excavation. To propel itself, the Red Dwarf sucks in hydrogen from currents in space, and converts it into fuel, meaning that the Red Dwarf can theoretically propel itself forever. This longevity is on full display, as it is mentioned that the Red Dwarf had been traveling for roughly 3 million years at the onset of the series. What makes this ship truly special, though, is its longevity despite the adversity that has affected the crew. At one point, a radiation leak kills all of the crew members, save a low-ranking technician and his cat, who were in suspended animation at the time. The ship’s operating system, named Holly, is able to run the ship for the next 3 million years until the radiation dissipates and the technician is ready to take control. Odd circumstances indeed, but remarkable for a ship build in the late 22nd century.
Serenity from Firefly
Often drawing comparisons to Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon, Firefly’s Serenity is a small transport vessel primarily used as a means of survival.
Throughout the series, Serenity’s nine-person crew uses the ships as a means to earn a living, crisscrossing the galaxy to complete various tasks of dubious legality. In appearance, Serenity vaguely resembles a firefly, with a midsection that glows upon acceleration similar to that of the actual bug. What makes Serenity interesting is the situation it is a part of. In the setting of Firefly, a civil war has divided the world into two distinct groups. At the war’s conclusion, the losing side must navigate a cowboy-western-like fringe universe without the creature comforts of higher civilization. In essence, the Serenity is the trusty steed and its crew are the cowboys turned banditos.
Millennium Falcon from Star Wars
Ever since Episode IV: A New Hope, the Millennium Falcon has been a beloved mainstay in the Star Wars franchise. With an unorthodox shape and slightly beat exterior, it is quite unassumingly known by some as the fastest ship of the galaxy. Speed is not the only feature that makes the Millennium Falcon one of sci-fi’s greatest spaceships, however.
Technically a Corellian YT-1300 light freighter, the Falcon has been converted for the use of smuggling purposes. Sensor-proof smuggling compartments make it the perfect vehicle for its purposes, and these compartments played a key role rescuing Princess Leia Organa and evading Imperial stormtroopers. The Falcon’s timing is of particular note, oftentimes appearing just in time to save the day and provide support or a means of escape. Most notably, the Millennium Falcon was the spaceship that infiltrated the heart of the second Death Star and obliterated its fusion core, destroying the Galactic Empire’s battle station and effectively ending their universe-wide reign. For its role in destroying one of sci-fi’s greatest spaceships, the Millennium Falcon will go down as one of the greatest of all time.