Could SpaceX's Starship feature an homage to a famous manga-inspired sci-fi film?
CEO Elon Musk shared an image Tuesday of the company's upcoming rocket, designed to send humans to Mars and beyond, mocked up with images from Alita: Battle Angel. The 2019 American film is based on the '90s Japanese manga Battle Angel Alita, and tells the story of a cyborg named Alita that works to uncover her mysterious past.
"Battle Angel Starship," Musk wrote to his 31.5 million Twitter followers, sharing an image of the under-development rocket emblazoned with an image of Alita, the quote "all or nothing," and the words "Mars Hunter Warrior," a reference to Alita's future bounty hunter role. The ship also features the number 99, commonly associated with the character and a number she uses when playing motorball.
Oh, and of course, it features a giant SpaceX logo.
Musk has been known to regularly share memes and jokes that reference science fiction and anime. Earlier this month he shared an image of Bernie Sanders standing in the United States Senate, photoshopped to look as if he's explaining the famously abstract ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion. In October 2018, he professed his love of anime over Twitter and declared that he owned a chibi Wolverine. Musk mentioned in January 2017 that Ghost in the Shell was "not the ideal ending" and the then-forthcoming live-action version had "a lot of potential."
Unfortunately that potential never seemed to quite materialize. The live-action Ghost in the Shell scored 44 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Alita: Battle Angel also received a similarly muted 61 percent. The original works of both are hailed as classics.
Although it seems like a lighthearted joke in Musk's downtime, he has been known to make references to science fiction in his work. Tesla vehicles are fitted with a Ludicrous mode and expected to offer PLaid power at a later date, both references to cult classic Spaceballs. SpaceX's two rocket recovery ships are named Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions, both references to Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. The red Tesla Roadster that launched on the first Falcon Heavy trip features the words "Don't Panic," a reference to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series.
The mockup also resembles a piece of aerial history: the nose art of World War 2 planes. The designs painted on planes in the era took a number of shapes: cobras, sharks, celebrities of the era like Ernie Pyle. But perhaps the most famous of these designs were sexualized pinup models of famous actresses like Rita Hayworth.
Musk's art could be a tribute to this history, but it's also worth noting that the character of Alita is presented as a teenager.
Whether this latest image is a sign of things to come for Starship may become clear relatively soon. SpaceX is aiming to launch the rocket on a fully-reusable orbital flight this year, the first step toward its more ambitious projects. These include a trip around the moon with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, scheduled for around 2023. It also includes sending the first humans to Mars, where they will be tasked with building a city by 2050. This will be designed to support future missions for the Starship, acting as a refueling base so people can fly out further and explore other planets in the solar system.
We'll have to wait and see whether "Mars Hunter Warrior"s will somehow feature in these plans.