Derek Meddings' 7 foot (2.1m) model of the Zero-X spacecraft, displayed in the launch sequence that opens the film Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)
|First appearance||Thunderbirds Are Go|
|Affiliation||Glenn Field Spaceport (2065–67)|
Spectrum Organisation (2068)
|Auxiliary vehicles||Martian Exploration Vehicle (MEV)|
|Armaments||1 x missile gun (onboard MEV)|
|Propulsion||nose cone: 2 Rosenthal-Hodge Dynamics sustainer rockets|
lifting body 1: 8 variable-cycle turbo-ram jets, 4 under each wing; 5 centrally mounted variable-mode gas turbine jets; 2 wing-tip booster jet engines
lifting body 2: as above
main body: 8 variable-mode engines operating as chemical rockets in space, or as variable-cycle jet engines using air intakes in atmospheric flight; 2 pitch and yaw rockets
MEV: 2 chemical booster rockets; variable-mode gravity generator providing internal artificial gravity and additional lift and hover capabilities on planetary surfaces and during take-off
Zero-X (spelling variants include "Zero X" or "Zero – X") is a fictional Earth spacecraft that appeared in two of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Supermarionation productions, the 1966 film Thunderbirds Are Go and the 1967 television series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Although publicity material for the various Supermarionation series, and the TV Century 21 comic, made references to connections between the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet canons, Zero-X is the only official link between the two series.
The first manned craft to land on Mars, the metallic-blue Zero-X comprises a number of detachable sections. The main body houses the chemical engines which provide the craft with the thrust required for lift-off and the subsequent journey to Mars. The Martian Exploration Vehicle (MEV) is attached to the front of the main body where it serves as the spaceship's main control centre during spaceflight. During atmospheric ingress or egress, two remotely controlled "lifting bodies" (self-propelled "flying wing" aerofoils) are attached to the main body at the front and rear of the craft. Finally, a heatproof nose cone with an aluminium exoskeleton protects the MEV during take-off and provides further aerodynamic flow to the vehicle in atmospheric ascent; it is jettisoned just before leaving the Earth's atmosphere, and is the only non-reusable part of the spacecraft.
The lifting bodies act as wings to allow the craft to operate from a runway like a conventional aeroplane, and carry multiple jet engines to reduce the amount of fuel needed for the main body's chemical engines. They separate from the main body when the craft is at a sufficiently high altitude and fly back to base; on re-entry, they rendezvous with the spacecraft and dock with it to again act as wings and provide propulsion in the atmosphere. On reaching Mars, the MEV detaches from the main body, which is left in orbit piloted by a single astronaut, and descends towards the planet's surface. At the surface the MEV extends caterpillar tracks to negotiate the rocky terrain.
The concept of a reusable first-stage lifting body (or in this case, bodies) boosting a smaller spacecraft to high altitude for more efficient use of its propulsion was in direct competition with the vertical-ascent rocket doctrine of the 1960s as a means of achieving spaceflight, and for some time lost out to it, as even the Space Shuttle – which landed as a conventional aircraft – makes a vertical rocket-powered ascent in the "classical" manner. In more recent years Virgin Galactic have re-established the concept, providing the first private commercial suborbital spaceflights in a similarly launched vehicle. The Zero-X contrasts in this way with Thunderbird 3, which, though nominally more advanced (hinted at because of its secrecy), is still a vertical-ascent rocket.
Zero-X has a total delta velocity of 40 miles per second, a standard acceleration of 1 g, a maximum acceleration of 10 g, and an emergency acceleration of 15 g. It is built by New World Aircraft Corporation, the same company that made Skyship One.
Thunderbirds Are Go
The first manned mission to Mars ended in failure after the Zero-X spacecraft was accidentally sabotaged by the Hood, who had stowed aboard the craft to photograph its wing mechanisms. The crew managed to escape and two years later a second Zero-X craft successfully reached Mars in September 2067. However, soon after touching down on the surface, the MEV fired upon a Martian "rock snake" in the belief that it was a lifeless rock formation, provoking retaliation by fire-shooting rock snakes, resulting in the first open combat between humans and extraterrestrials. While the astronauts managed to escape, the lifting body control systems on board the MEV sustained damage during the confrontation, causing the Zero-X to crash upon its return to Earth, landing in Craigsville, United States (roughly 20 miles from its launch site, the fictitious Glenn Field Spaceport). The crew survived, having been saved at the last minute (quite literally) by International Rescue.
In both missions, the Zero-X was manned by three crew and two scientists:
- Paul "Skipper" Travers (Captain) (for the overall mission) - Travers, was modelled on Sean Connery, who was starring as James Bond at the time that Thunderbirds Are Go was made.
- Greg Martin (Space Captain) (for the flight)
- Brad Newman (Space Navigator)
- Dr Tony Grant (Astrophysicist)
- Dr Ray Pierce (Astronomer)
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
Re-commissioned by the Spectrum Organisation, the Zero-X returned to Mars in 2068 in search of the source of alien signals detected from Earth. The crew's hostile actions led to a "war of nerves" with the Mysterons in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. After tracing the signals to an alien city complex, the mission commander, Spectrum officer Captain Black, gave the order to fire upon the facility after mistaking imaging devices for weapons and fearing they were about to be attacked. Following the destruction, the three-man crew of the MEV witnessed the miraculous re-materialisation ("retro-metabolism", as it is termed in the TV series) of the Mysteron city, and for their act of aggression the Mysterons took control of Black's mind and body as the principal agent of their vengeance. It is never specified whether Black and the crew actually died on Mars. However, when the Zero-X returned to Earth, Black was its only occupant. He vanished upon landing at Glenn Field, and shortly after the Mysterons issued their first threat against Earth.
Although the Zero-X does not appear in Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet (2005), a reference is made to it through the depiction of lifting bodies being used to assist spaceships in entering Earth orbit.
Thunderbirds Are Go, TV Series
The Zero-X features in the Re-boot series episode "Signals, Part 1", During launch the Zero-X is stolen by the Hood for its light-speed engines however shortly after the engines go critical and threaten to create an Extinction-Level Event, Jeff Tracy boards the Zero-X and attempts to take control whilst the Hood ejects in an escape pod, Jeff Tracy attempts to take the Zero-X into space, shortly after there is a massive explosion and the ship is presumed destroyed along with Jeff Tracy. 8 years later an SOS is picked up from the Oort Cloud apparently from Jeff Tracy and International Rescue attempts to recover the Zero-X escape pod believing it to be the key to understanding how he survived and his current situation. After analysing the escape pod footage they determine that the witnessed explosion was actually an aftershock of the Zero-X's main engine firing at full power and that the Zero-X itself launched into space at near light speed.
A series featuring the adventures of the crew of the Zero-X appeared in the comic TV Century 21 and its successors, including Countdown. A model of the Zero-X was included in the Project SWORD line of toys marketed by Century 21 Productions.
AP Films commissioned Slough-based company Master Models for two scale filming miniatures of Zero-X. The bigger of the pair, which was built at a cost of £2,500, measured 7 feet (2.1 m) in length and weighed 50 pounds (23 kg). The set design of the Zero-X flight deck was inspired by that of Concorde, a prototype of which the production staff viewed at Filton Airfield in South Gloucestershire.
In 2012, the original MEV filming model, minus the cockpit canopy, was acquired by the prop restoration company The Prop Gallery, which commissioned the still-trading Master Models to refurbish the miniature that it had built 46 years previously.
Stephen La Rivière, in his book Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future, argues that the Zero-X spacecraft is "the star of Thunderbirds Are Go," crediting Derek Meddings' design and acknowledging its commerciality: "... cynics would suggest that the various detachable segments (wings and nose cone) had less to do with the storyline and more to do with potential toy manufacturing!" Glenn Erickson, in his review of the two 1960s Thunderbirds films for the website DVD Talk, is more negative, describing Zero-X as "unwieldy" and suggesting that it is aesthetically inferior to Skyship One, the central vehicle of Thunderbird 6 (1968).
Alasdair Wilkins of the entertainment website io9 questions the design in so far as Zero-X is a "not-especially-aerodynamic-looking craft". He comments also on the vehicle's introduction in the opening scenes of Thunderbirds Are Go, which at more than 10 minutes he considers to be inordinately long: "It's pretty much the Alpha and Omega of launch sequences ... a sequence that threatens to make 2001 [: A Space Odyssey] look like non-stop, thrill-a-minute action." The attention to detail given to the various stages of the Zero-X assembly and launching, Wilkins writes, results in an example of what he terms "launch sequence porn, plain and simple": he elaborates, "It's a bunch of people effectively saying, 'Action? Characters? Humour? Nah, forget all that. We know what the people really want to see, and it's clearly the modelwork.'"
- Thunderbirds Are Go (1966), Century 21 Cinema/United Artists.
- Supermarionation: Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds Puppets by Terry Curtis
- Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967), Century 21 Television/ITC, Episode 1: "The Mysterons".
- Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Audio Adventure, MA-151: Introducing Captain Scarlet.
- "Thunderbirds Are Go – Original Zero-X Filming Miniature Restoration". thepropgallery.com. Archived from the original on 23 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
- La Rivière, Stephen (2009). Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future. Neshannock, Pennsylvania: Hermes Press. pp. 136–37. ISBN 978-1-932563-23-8.
- Erickson, Glenn (17 July 2004). "DVD Savant Review: Thunderbirds: International Rescue Edition". DVD Talk. Internet Brands. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
- Wilkins, Alasdair (4 July 2012). "And Now, the Most Ludicrously Over-The-Top Launch Sequence Porn Ever". io9. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2014.