Comparing the abilities of spacecraft in different fictional universes is an undeniably silly dick-measuring exercise, especially given that the writers of those series may or may not have cared much about the science or consistency of technical details in their fictional universes. Star Trek may have a reputation for trying to ground its science fiction in science, but Star Wars features a hotshot space pilot mistaking a measure of distance for a measure of time. Nonetheless, the good people at The Fat Wallet have tried to scientifically determine the speeds of pop culture’s favorite spaceships, from NASA’s real-world, gravity-propelled Voyager 1 to Futurama’s remarkably speedy Planet Express, laying it all out in a fetching infographic. How they determine those speeds is amusing, especially when calculating ship speeds in outright parody works like Spaceballs:
Spaceball 1 can attain a new speed definitely faster than light speed. It’s a speed so fast it causes the universe to appear in plaid. After engaging Ludicrous speed for 1 minute and 5 seconds of movie time, Barf says Spaceball One must have overshot the space RV by “a week and a half.” This sets our top speed for the megalithic Spaceball One.
The closest we’ve ever really come to achieving a speed that makes the universe appear in plaid was a planned nuclear propulsion spacecraft known as Project Orion in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. It was projected to hit a maximum velocity of 10,000 kilometers per second, or 3.3% of the speed of light. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 signed between the U.S., U.K. and U.S.S.R. to slow the nuclear arms race and halt excessive release of nuclear fallout eventually ended this project. For the time being, we’ll have to settle for Saturn V, which can achieve a top speed of 64,500 km per hour.
The real winner, with its Infinite Improbability Drive, is the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s Heart Of Gold, which seems fitting: An absurd, delightful answer to an absurd, delightful exercise.