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USCSS Nostromo: Origins And Specifications

By | Published May 13, 2024

The United States Cargo Star Ship (USCSS) Nostromo is the most well-known ship in the Alien franchise, appearing as the main location of the first Alien movie. The ill-fated ship was destroyed on its return voyage from Thedus to Earth as a result of the actions of a lone Xenomorph. Here’s a deeper dive into the origins, specifications, and historical significance of the USCSS Nostromo.

Significance Of The Ship's Name

The opening card of the Nostromo from the start of Alien

The USCSS beside the Nostromo means The United States Cargo Star Ship and most of the other Weyland-Yutani ships have the same indication. The Colonial Marine warships like the Sulaco are marked with USS, meaning just United States Ship. As with many other ships in the Alien series, the name "Nostromo" is taken from one of Joseph Conrad's novels of the same name. In the novel "Nostromo", there is a character nicknamed Nostromo who is an Italian expatriate who has risen to his position through his bravery and daring exploits. "Nostromo" is Italian for "shipmate" or "boatswain". Other ship names derived from Conrad's novels include the USS Sulaco, USCSS Patna, and the USCSS Corbelan IV from Alien Romulus.

Origins and Design

The Nostromo approaching LV-426 after detaching from the refinery

The Nostromo was Constructed in 2101 as an interstellar cruiser, around the time that the Weyland and Yutani corporations merged together. In 2116, it was retrofitted as a commercial towing vehicle, adapting to the vast distances and demands of outer space commerce. Its manufacturer, the Lockheed Martin Corporation, equipped the vessel with advanced technology, including a MU/TH/UR 6000 computer mainframe to handle ship operations autonomously during long voyages. However, by the time of 2122 in the Alien timeline, the ship was already considered old and had several technical issues.

Specifications

The exterior of the Nostomo's bridge

The Nostromo was a modified Lockmart CM-88B Bison M-Class star freighter, featuring an impressive length of 334 meters and a width of 215 meters. Its mass of 63,000 metric tonnes was capable of carrying significant cargo, specifically a mile-long ore refinery. s This behemoth could process 20 million tons of raw ore during its long trek from Thedus to Earth, reflecting its role as a commercial hauler. The refinery that the Nostromo was towing is often confused with the Nostromo itself, while the ship was about 10 times smaller than its payload. In 2179, the ship was valued at $42 million in adjusted dollars, minus the payload.


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Crew and Human Element

The crew of the Nostromo wakes from hypersleep

The Nostromo was manned by a crew of seven individuals, each playing a pivotal role in the unfolding events. These included Captain Arthur Dallas, Executive Officer Thomas Kane, Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, and navigator Joan Lambert among others. Chief Science Officer Ash was added to the roster at the last minute, replacing a more familiar crew member. The crew was rounded off by two experienced engineers, Dennis Parker and Samuel Brett. In addition to the crew of seven, the ship carried a cat onboard, named Jones. Jones was to relieve the stress of the crew and catch and possible vermin.

Operational History

The Nostromo lands on LV-426

The ship’s final voyage is the most well-documented, departing Earth in 2120 for Thedus and eventually leading to a fateful encounter on LV-426. The ship was inserted with the Special Order 937 to bring an Alien to Earth, known only to the Science Officer. After intercepting a mysterious distress signal, the crew landed on the alien planetoid, setting off a chain of events that led a lone Xenomorph facehugger onboard. Upon departing LV-426, the ship re-docked with the refinery and seemingly set its course back to Earth, hoping to reach it in about ten months. The now adult Xenomorph started picking off the crewmembers until only Ellen Ripley remained.

Self Destruct And Flight Recorder Recovery

The self destruct system of the Nostromo

The Nostromo's self-destruct sequence was initiated by Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley in an attempt to kill the Xenomorph aboard, leading to the ship's explosive demise. She tried to revert the self-destruct and she discovered the Xenomorph near the Narcissus shuttle. However, due to relatively bad UI, this revert failed and the self-destruct went ahead, while the Narcissus shuttle narrowly escaped. The Nostromo left behind a Flight Recorder, which was either jettisoned just before the self-destruct or somehow survived the explosion. The Flight Recorder was discovered in space by the USCSS Anesidora and brought to the Sevastopol Station, triggering the events of the great Alien Isolation video game. In the end, Amanda Ripley (the daughter of Ellen Ripley) listened to the flight recorder, hearing a secret message that Ellen had left for her.

Fate Of The Narcissus Shuttle

The Narcissus Shuttle attached to the Nostromo

The Flight Recorder and the Narcissus shuttle with Ripley and Jones on board were the only things remaining from the Nostromo. In the Alien: Out Of The Shadows novel and audiobook, 37 years after Alien (and 20 before Aliens), the Narcissus shuttle reached the planet LV-178 with Ash's AI consciousness uploaded inside the shuttle's computer. Ellen Ripley battled another batch of Xenomorphs, while Ash's mind was finally destroyed. Ripley received amnesia and went back to hypersleep on the shuttle, forgetting the events ever happened. The Narcissus then floated in space for another 20 years until it was picked up by a deep space salvage crew. The disappointed salvage crew realized that they had no claim on the shuttle, and it went back to the ownership of Weyland-Yutani, who examined it thoroughly, finding nothing.

Ron Cobb's Semiotic Standard

Ron Cobb's Ship Symbols

The Nostromo conforms to the "Semiotic Standard", created by Ron Cobb for the first Alien movie. The Semiotic Standard is a ruleset of symbols, meant to be used inside all commercial trans-stellar & heavy element transport craft. This is a similar system that civilian boats use (often on flags) from the 20th century. In-universe, the rules came into effect on April 16th, 2078, and were used by both the Nostromo and Sevastopol Station from Alien: Isolation. The latest ship in the Alien universe - the USCSS Corbelan IV from Alien Romulus also follows this ruleset.

The Nostromo's Schematics

The schematics of the Nostromo

The ship's layout, influenced by early production sketches and soundstage designs, often contradicts its on-screen depiction. For example, details like elevators and additional shuttles have been inferred but are not seen in the film. Despite these inconsistencies, the Nostromo's final design in the movie emphasizes its role as a deep space towing vehicle with a vast hyperdrive generator at its core. The best representation of the Nostromo schematics comes from the Alien: The Blueprints book by Graham Langridge, an excellent representation of most of the ships and vehicles from the Alien franchise.

Behind The Scenes

The Nostromo miniature prop being filmed

The ship's initial name in the Dan O'Bannon script was "Snark", which was changed to something more elegant. The Nostromo was designed by the visionary minds of Ron Cobb and Chris Foss, and their designs were brought to life by Brian Johnson with further artistic input from Ridley Scott himself. Three scale models of the Nostromo were made: a 12-inch version for long shots, a 4-foot version for rear shots, and a 12-foot, 7-short-ton rig for undocking scenes. Filming took place at Bray Studios, where director Ridley Scott repainted the models grey. Designed by Ron Cobb, the Nostromo's interior featured interconnected sets creating a claustrophobic feel, with lighting challenges addressed by clear plastic roofs and flamethrowers.


Conclusion

The USCSS Nostromo, an iconic vessel in the Alien franchise, was constructed in 2101 and retrofitted in 2116 for commercial towing. Named after a character in Joseph Conrad's novel with the same name, it featured advanced technology for its time and massive towing capacity. Its final voyage in 2122 led to its destruction due to a Xenomorph. The ship's claustrophobic interior, designed by Ron Cobb, added to the film's tension. The Nostromo's legacy continues to influence Alien media and remains a cornerstone of sci-fi lore.

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