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The TARDIS, the Starship Enterprise, and the Millennium Falcon are the usual suspects for the top spots in any favorites list of classic science fiction spacecraft. But the USSC Discovery One, the principle spacecraft from both the movie and the novel “2001: A Space Odyssey,” while far from obscure, perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
Hard sci fi doesn’t get much harder than the Discovery. A lack of waste heat-radiating fins is one of the few concessions that were made in the ship’s design out of concern audiences might mistake the fins for wings and think the spaceship was built to operate in an atmosphere.
From her nuclear propulsion system to the crew centrifuge that slowly rotated inside the spherical front section of the ship to generated “artificial gravity,” the vast majority of Discovery’s design was grounded in real-world science and engineering. Even the hibernacula that allowed some of the crew to remain in hypersleep for much of the mission, while more speculative, isn’t an unreasonable extrapolation of where technology might get us in the future.
And while Apple’s Siri isn’t as sophisticated – or as homicidal – as HAL 9000, we have moved in the direction 2001 predicted in terms of voice recognition and artificial intelligence even if we’re not as far along that path as 1968 imagined we would be.
Discovery One won’t let you tour the galaxy, but if you want to move around the solar system in comfort, albeit at a slow pace by typical sci fi spaceship standards, Discovery will not only get you there, but it will do so in a way that probably comes much closer to how real world spacecraft of the future will operate than the typical sci fi space vessel.