SpaceX founder Elon Musk is inspired by the captivating worlds and ideas presented in science fiction literature. A particular book series that captured his imagination is the "Culture" novel series written by Scottish author Iain M. Banks, who passed away in 2013. The Culture series, set in a vast and advanced interstellar civilization, depicted a utopian society where humanity coexists with highly sophisticated artificial intelligences (AI) known as ‘Minds.’ These ‘Minds’ are housed within immense starships, which autonomously carry out various tasks and missions throughout the galaxy. Musk has recommended people to read the series. In 2019, he shared that his favorite Banks’ book is "probably 'Excession' but I'd recommend reading 'Player of Games' and 'Surface Detail' first. They're all great," he Tweeted.
Drawn to the grandeur and inventiveness of the Culture series, Musk decided to pay homage to it through SpaceX's own fleet of three autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS). These sea-going landing platforms are used for the recovery of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets soon after it propels cargo and astronauts to orbit. ASDS have played a crucial role in the company's goal of achieving reusable orbital-class rocket technology that has significantly reduced the cost of spaceflight and enabled more frequent launches. As of today, SpaceX has performed 243 missions, landed orbital-class rockets 204 times, and reused recovered boosters 177 times -- an incredible achievement in the history of rocketry!
Musk envisioned these drone ships as useful vessels that would revolutionize space travel, much like the advanced starships depicted in the Culture series. Therefore, he aptly named each droneship after a beloved starship from the books. The first droneship was named "Just Read the Instructions" in 2015 as a tribute to one of the sentient AI starships in the Culture book called “The Player of Games.” This name reflects the ambitious spirit of SpaceX engineers who developed complex space exploration technologies that require the need to follow precise and careful instructions. The process of recovering a rocket's first-stage booster using a droneship is a complex challenging operation that requires precise timing, coordination, and favorable weather conditions at sea.
The second droneship is called "Of Course I Still Love You". This name is a playful nod to the audacious vision of SpaceX, emphasizing the deep love, passion, and commitment to space exploration. SpaceX’s newest autonomous drone ship is called “A Shortfall Of Gravitas.” It started operations in 2021 and its name is a reference to the AI Mind character in the Culture “Look to Windward” novel that is called “Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall.”
The decision to name the drone ships after the Culture series also served as a tribute to Iain M. Banks, the talented author whose works left an indelible mark on the Sci-Fi genre. In the last decade, SpaceX has captured the imagination of space enthusiasts worldwide and the ASDS names have brought attention to the Culture novels, introducing it to a broader audience and ensuring its enduring legacy. They became symbols of the company's mission to push the boundaries of space travel to create a future reminiscent of the visionary worlds portrayed in science fiction literature. Musk's inspiration from the Culture books not only added a touch of whimsy to SpaceX's endeavors but also paid tribute to the boundless creativity and imagination that fuels humanity's relentless pursuit of exploration and innovation.
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Featured Images Source: SpaceX / Iain M. Banks Book Covers
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.