The Greatest Spaceships Made From Scrap

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With the space shuttle program about to be retired, we need a new class of crewed ships for space exploration. But Congress may never cough up the money to build them. Luckily, science fiction teaches us that anything can be a spaceship: an old airplane, a World War II battleship, a fairground ride... or even some junkyard debris, as Andy Griffith shows in this clip. Click through for our roundup of the best repurposed and recycled spaceships.

The Vulture, from Salvage 1. Andy Griffith is "a junkman with a dream," in this ABC TV movie that became a series. He decides to build a spaceship from junk and fly it to the moon, so he can reposess all the crap that NASA left up there and sell it back to NASA (or someone else) for a profit. He enlists the aid of a retired astronaut and an "explosive" fuel expert, and together they pull off the impossible. Is it legal, someone asks him. "I don't know!" he replies cheerfully. Here's another clip:

The Yamato, from Starblazers. The Earth is being devastated by radiation bombs from the evil Gamilons (or Gamilas in Japanese). The Earth's space fleet is ruined and outclassed. There's only one hope left: travel to Iscandar and get a miracle cure from a glowy princess. But there's no spaceship to make the journey. So the surviving humans find the ruined World War II Japanese battleship Yamato, and retrofit her into a spaceship. For years, I wondered why the Yamato looks so boat-like. Then I re-watched some of the DVDs and found out why.

The Thunder Road, from Explorers. Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and some other guy learn how to build a device that creates a space-worthy bubble, from their dreams. Using this for protection, they build a spaceship out of an old Tilt-A-Whirl amusement-ride seat, washing machine windows, a spare tire, old TV sets, and a "proceed with caution" sign. Then they actually fly their home-made contraption up into space and meet up with aliens, led by Robert Picardo, the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager. (Thanks to Sherilyn for the tip!)


The 747, from Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers by Harry Harrison. Possibly the silliest book by Harrison, who also wrote the Stainless Steel Rat and Bill The Galactic Hero books. In this parody of golden age science fiction, three guys and a girl are playing around with a home-made particle accelerator. They put some cheese in the accelerator's target area and create a new element, cheddite. It has the ability to move people immense distances across space, so Chuck, Jerry, Sally and John turn an old 747 jet into a spaceship and fly across the galaxy. They find themselves having to save the galaxy from an evil race known as the Loathesome Lortonoi. (Thanks to Alan for the suggestion.)

The Barnyard ship, from The Astronaut Farmer. Billy Bob Thornton gave up on being an astronaut to go home to his farm, so he decides to build his own rocket in a barn and fly it into space. He doesn't really build it out of junk, however, so I'm not sure if it belongs in this listing.

The Madball ship, from Madballs. This is a cartoon tying in with a gross-out candy from the 1980s. On a planet where everybody is a ball with arms and legs, the evil Badballs want to ban rock'n'roll. The bastards. So the Madballs build their own spaceship out of parts they find by dumpster-diving (they literally find the final crucial piece in a trash can.) And then they fly to Earth, where they can have all the rock'n'roll adventures they want, and never be heard from again.


Rickety Rocket. A group of stereotyped black teenagers create their own spaceship out of garbage they find, and they use it to solve mysteries. It looks just like Speed Buggy and has a similar origin. The cartoon aired as part of the Plastic Man Comedy-Adventure Show. Typical storyline: A robot art critic in a top hat (classy!) is stealing priceless objects and shrinking them using a matter transformer. But he turns out not to be a robot after all (boring!).