5 Spaceship-Free Ways Off-Planet in Sci-Fi


So you want to leave Earth, but the idea of traveling business class on Virgin Galactic just doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you don’t like the roar of the rockets and the feel of 3g of acceleration as you’re blasted into the sky. Or perhaps you just don’t like being squeezed into a seat between Grunthos the Flatulent and the polypous creature who keeps asking if you’ve accepted Cthulhu into your heart.

Whatever the reason, here are five science fictional ways off the planet, without the need for a spaceship.

5. Space Elevator

Put a satellite in geostationary orbit and it will appear to hang motionless above a point on Earth’s equator.

Extend a cable down from that satellite (and another upward to keep the center-of-mass near GEO altitude). Now you have a cable extending from Earth’s surface all the way up to GEO, and beyond.

From there, all you need is a means of climbing the cable, and away you go into space.

Space elevators have been featured in numerous sci-fi stories, from Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise, to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, wherein a space elevator built on Mars is brought down by the Martian insurgency.

As you might imagine, you need a pretty strong material to build a cable like that. The standard solution is that miracle material of the real-soon-now sci-fi future, carbon nanotube.

You’ll also need a lot of patience to climb this beanstalk, Jack. The world’s fastest elevator (as of 2014) reaches speeds of 72 km/h. To ascend the 35,786 km to orbit in that elevator would take almost 21 days. That’s a long time to spend listening to elevator music.

(Space elevator image from Wikipedia, licensed under CC-BY-SA 1.0.)

4. Stargate

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s movie about ancient aliens in Egypt spawned three live-action TV series, an animated series, a couple of TV movies, and rumors of new theatrical follow-ons to the original film.

The titular stargate is a giant stone doughnut with heiroglyph-like symbols set within a ring on the rim. When proper coordinates are “dialed” into the stargate, it will form a wormhole connection to one of many stargates scattered throughout the galaxy by an ancient alien race.

The stargate network thus allows travel from planet to planet without the need for spacecraft: just step through the gate and find yourself at the corresponding gate on a distant world.

Dangers include hostile snake-like bodysnatcher aliens, black holes, and accidentally blowing up an entire solar system, so make sure you have someone like MacGuyver on your team to fix any problems.

(Promotional image from MGM, linked from Wikimedia, used for illustrative purposes.)

3. Transporter

For those not content with relying on alien technology, there’s the transporter from that iconic television space western, Star Trek. Originally described in behind-the-scenes materials as an “energy-matter scrambler,” the transporter provided a way to put the heroes into action quickly. (’60s TV audiences, apparently, were too unsophisticated to understand a time cut.)

Fans and later series have provided more background on how it works, including treknobabble such as annular confinement beams, Heisenberg compensators, and pattern buffers, but in end, all you have to do is say “Beam me up, Scotty!” and off you go into space.

Yes, I know, that phrase was never uttered during the series…

2. Tesseract

What if you’re bored of that whole technology thing, and want to travel with sciency fantasy powers?

In mathematics, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog to the cube. In Madeline L’Engle’s children’s book A Wrinkle in Time, the tesseract is a way of “wrinkling” the fifth dimension to travel instantly from one place to another.

The main characters take advantage of this extra-dimensional wrinkling to travel from Earth, to the planets Uriel, Camazotz, and Ixchel in an attempt to find their lost father, who has been experimenting with the tesseract.

It helped that the child protagonists had the assistance of an alliterative trio: Mrs. Who (no apparent relation to the Doctor), Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit. They happen to be witches. Or angels. Or the avatars of a star. Or something like that.

(Found image of tesseract explanation on Google image search, source unknown but originally from the novel.)

1. Death

Depending on your religious beliefs, death may be a way off the planet, but for John Carter, it seems to be a mode of transportation to Mars. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the Confederate army veteran finds himself transported to Mars after being killed (or at least left for dead) in an Apache attack.

So what does a southern gentleman do when he finds himself on the planet known to its natives as Barsoom? Why, he takes advantage of his apparent super-strength in the weaker Martian gravity to become a great warrior among the martial Green Martians. Eventually, he meets the more human-like Red Martians, woos Dejah Thoris, princess of the Martian kingdom of Helium, and becomes her prince.

Well… if the choice is between death and becoming royalty on an exotic alien world… what is a gentleman to do?

(Did I mention that the Red Martians don’t wear clothes, and reproduce by laying eggs?)

So what’s your favorite method of getting off-world? Did I forget about it? Let me know in a comment.

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