- "It was a ship. Relatively intact it was, and more alien than any of them had imagined possible. Dallas would not have labelled it gruesome, but it was disturbing in a way hard technology should not have been. The lines of the massive derelict were clean but unnatural, imbuing the entire design with an unsettling abnormality."
- ―Alien novelization, chapter 4
The derelict on Acheron (LV-426), codenamed Origin and also known as the alien derelict, was a crashed Engineer Juggernaut. Some time in 2122, a warning signal being broadcast from the derelict was detected by Weyland-Yutani Corporation. The commercial hauler USCSS Nostromo was subsequently sent to investigate without the knowledge of its crew. The ship was believed to have crashed on LV-426 several millennia prior to the arrival of Nostromo.
The derelict is a large, asymmetrical, wishbone-shaped craft, with a thickened central section between two prong-like structures. The port prong measures 161.6 meters in length and the starboard prong 174.3 meters. The craft is 116.6 meters wide and 61.0 meters wide between the starboard and port prongs, according to official historical records. The prongs appear to bend upwards, although this could be due to the positioning of the wreck on the moon's surface. On one side, near ground level, the ship has three large openings; it is through one of these openings that Nostromo crew members Arthur Dallas, Joan Lambert and Thomas Kane entered the ship as part of their investigation. The exact nature of the openings is unclear, although Kane theorized that they were airlocks, possibly left open following some kind of emergency evacuation from the ship.
The interior of the derelict resembles more a living organism than a spacegoing vessel, with walls and vaulted ceilings seemingly made of bone, and many organic shapes and structures in its passageways. Indeed, Kane additionally suggested that the ship may have been a biological construct, "grown" rather than built by the race that created it. During their exploration, the Nostromo crew surveyed only one small part of the vessel, including the cockpit, as well as a cavernous cargo hold beneath. However, later studies found the ship contained numerous very large internal compartments and numerous cargo bays.
One of the derelict's more notable features aboard the vessel was a device that transmitted a powerful acoustical beacon. This transmission was powerful enough to be detected some distance from LV-426, and was in fact a cautionary message designed to warn potential explorers away from the ship's dangerous cargo. However, the fact it was in an alien language meant this meaning typically went undiscovered by the human crews who heard it. Ironically, the warning beacon led both the Nostromo and Anesidora crews to the ship, instead of warning them off. The beacon was eventually deactivated by Henry Marlow, the captain of Anesidora.
The cargo hold explored by Kane was found to contain thousands of Xenomorph XX121 Eggs, covered in a thin, flat layer of blue mist that reacted when broken. It has been theorized that this mist is generated by the Eggs themselves as a means to detect the presence of a suitable host lifeform, although it has also been suggested that it may be some form of security mechanism created by the Engineers to keep the Eggs subdued and inert. Ridley Scott states during the audio commentary on the Alien home video releases that the derelict is a "weapon carrier" designed to transport the Eggs, which serve as a biological weapon.
When the cargo hold was later entered by the crew of Anesidora, only one Egg opened despite there being three individuals present; it is possible that some of the Eggs were in fact dead or otherwise incapable of opening.
It is unclear how many crew members were originally aboard the derelict. When it was discovered by the Nostromo crew, only a single body of the pilot, assumed to be that of Engineer, remained on board. By this time, the body was fossilized inside the chair suit, indicating it had been dead for thousands if not millions of years, and was fused to the command chair in which it sat. Damage to the pilot's chest indicated it had been killed by a Chestburster.
Years later, Russ and Anne Jorden explore previously undescribed areas of the derelict and find the remains of several Engineers and Xenomorphs. There is evidence of weapons fire as well as acid burns throughout the ship, the two groups apparently having killed each other during a battle of some kind. They also find the remains of a Queen and an Engineer who fought to the death and killed each other in unarmed combat.
Discovery by Nostromo
The origins of the derelict and the Engineer who piloted it remain unknown. Likewise, the circumstances behind how the ship came to be on the moon — whether it was deliberately set down or crashed unintentionally — remain a mystery. What is known is that the vessel had been to LV-1201, a planet where the Engineers were apparently breeding Xenomorphs, some time before it crashed. Judging by the fossilized condition of the pilot's corpse, the derelict had been on LV-426 for potentially millions of years. Before the last of its crew were killed, they managed to set up a warning beacon in an attempt to keep others from stumbling upon the Xenomorphs stored aboard the vessel. In a twist of irony, this message was later detected and decoded by Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and USCSS Nostromo, whose crew initially assumed the warning was a distress call, was deliberately rerouted there in 2122 to (unbeknownst to its crew) recover one of the creatures. Crewmembers Dallas, Lambert and Kane boarded the derelict; Kane was eventually impregnated by a Facehugger in its cargo hold. Nostromo subsequently left LV-426, but Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley was later forced to initiate its self-destruct sequence as a result of the Xenomorph it had unintentionally picked up.
Rediscovery by Anesidora
In 2137, fifteen years after Nostromo set down on LV-426, USCSS Anesidora detected the same beacon and landed on the moon to investigate and salvage anything of value. The crew discovered the derelict and equipment left behind by Nostromo. While exploring the derelict, Henry Marlow, the captain of Anesidora, disabled the beacon to prevent any other salvage vessels from discovering the ship. As the crew explored the cargo hold, Marlow's wife, Catherine Foster, was attacked by a Facehugger. Anesidora quickly left LV-426 and traveled to Sevastopol Station in search of help, triggering the Xenomorph incident there.
Loss and second rediscovery
With its beacon deactivated, the derelict went undisturbed for some 42 years, during which time the colony of Hadley's Hope was established on LV-426. Despite this human habitation, the colonists remained unaware of the derelict as it was shielded from the colony's ground scanners by the Ilium mountain range, while the moon's thick, debris-laden atmosphere shrouded the ship both from the naked eye and satellite scanning. At some point during this intervening period, the derelict was damaged by volcanic activity, causing its port side to fall from its peaking position.
Following the rescue of Ripley from deep space in 2179, information taken from her testimony of Nostromo's landing on the moon allowed Hadley's Hope prospectors Russ and Anne Jorden to relocate the ship. The discovery of the derelict's cargo initiated a large-scale Xenomorph infestation at the colony that ultimately led to the meltdown and detonation of its Atmosphere Processing Plant. Nevertheless, the derelict was largely undamaged by the explosion.
Following the successful rediscovery of the ancient ship, Weyland-Yutani established the Origin Facility around its wreckage and immediately began studying both the ship itself and Xenomorphs bred from the Eggs found on board. Numerous smaller, portable research labs were set up within the derelict itself. However, Marines from the USS Sephora eventually sabotaged the facility's security systems as part of an ongoing conflict with Weyland-Yutani, causing Xenomorphs to rapidly overrun the base. The inside of the derelict was turned into a Hive and numerous Weyland-Yutani scientists were cocooned within and impregnated with Chestbursters.
Behind the Scenes
Originally, the Xenomorph Eggs were not found aboard the derelict, but were to be housed in a completely separate architectural structure dubbed the "Egg Silo". However, this location was eventually merged with the derelict spacecraft due to budget restraints. The derelict itself underwent a number of design alterations during production, and was at one point intended to be human in origin. The first to work on the look of the derelict was Alien conceptual artist Ron Cobb, although his designs were rejected for being too "rational" when the derelict was intended to be inhuman and disturbing. Designers Chris Foss and Mœbius also conceptualized different versions of the derelict, and their designs were given serious consideration to the point of appearing in several of director Ridley Scott's storyboards. However, they were ultimately still considered too grounded, and Scott instead turned to H. R. Giger, who had just finished designing the film's Alien creature.
H. R. Giger redesign
Giger came up with the derelict design in a few hours, working from Scott's brief that it should appear totally inhuman. Giger envisioned a ship that had been grown rather than built, and after seeing the first concept drawing of the vessel Scott decided immediately it was the look he wanted for the film. Scott would later recall, "Giger's first drawing was just a knockout. I took one look at it and said, 'That's it.'" Several other members of the production team, and the studio executives in particular, were unnerved by the disturbing designs, but Scott remained adamant and they were accepted.
The derelict model used in film was constructed from plasticine and polystyrene over a metal frame, and measured around 4 meters long. Although it contained a huge amount of surface detail, much of this was lost on screen when director Ridley Scott elected to backlight to craft for effect. The model was sculpted by Peter Voysey, working from Giger's drawings.
130 prop Eggs were created for the derelict's cargo hold, with one special "hero Egg" prop was created with a top that could peel open using hydraulics. The scene of Kane being attacked was filmed on September 10, 1978.
Ridley Scott wanted an early warning system around the Alien Eggs that would signal them to the approach of a possible host organism. This effect was achieved through the use of a blue scanning laser that was projected through smoke to highlight the apparent membrane covering the eggs. The laser used was loaned to Scott by the rock group The Who, who were testing out various lasers for use in their upcoming tour in the soundstage next door to where Alien was being filmed.
Ridley Scott has stated in respect to the production of Alien that he wanted to make "a slasher movie in space". The derelict is intended as an updated version of "a dark, old, haunted house", as is the Nostromo.
When the derelict was slated to return in Aliens, the effects team tracked down Bob Burns, who had taken possession of the derelict model following filming on Alien, seeking permission to use it again for the sequel. To save on the cost (and risk) of shipping the model to England, the requisite background plates involving the derelict were shot in the United States so that they could be composited into the model shots that would be filmed in England at a later date. The sequence involving the derelict was ultimately cut from Aliens before its theatrical release, but the footage was later reinstated in the extended Special Edition.
- In Aliens: Colonial Marines, should the player shoot the head of The Pilot, two small holographic ships will appear in the room and engage in a dogfight overhead. Note that the depiction of the spacecraft should not be considered the accurate truth behind the derelict's history due to the inaccurate portrayal of the ship's flight direction and the fact that this is merely an Easter Egg.
- The Colonial Marines Technical Manual contains several transcripts describing how the company rediscovers the derelict on LV-426 and subsequently sends a science team to investigate.
- Due to the holographic blueprint of this class of ship as seen in Prometheus, some have questioned the true size of the derelict as it clearly has a massive sublevel (used for storing Xenomorph Eggs) that rivals even the Juggernaut in size. Note that the Juggernaut does not have a sublevel like the derelict but is composed of a series of connecting chambers, with the bridge/hypersleep chamber being at the center.
- Aliens: Outbreak/novel (appears in flashback)
- Aliens: Female War/novel
- Aliens Adventure Game (mentioned only)
- Aliens: Music of the Spears (novel) (mentioned only)
- Alien Trilogy (video game)
- Aliens: Apocalypse (appears in flashback)
- Aliens versus Predator (video game)
- Aliens versus Predator 2 (mentioned only)
- Aliens: Original Sin (mentioned only)
- Aliens: Colonial Marines/Stasis Interrupted (video game)
Behind the scenes
- Alien: The Official Poster Magazine of the Year's Most Terrifying Movie No.2
- Alien Blu-ray menu (2011), 20th Century Fox [Blu-ray].
- Alan Dean Foster. Alien, p. 79 (2014), Titan Books.
- Alan Dean Foster. Alien, p. 73 (2014), Titan Books.
- Ridley Scott, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, David Giler, Veronica Cartwright, Ivor Powell. The Beast Within: Making Alien (2003), 20th Century Fox [DVD].
- Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013), Gearbox Software, SEGA [Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360].
- Ridley Scott, Dan O'Bannon, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright. Alien audio commentary (2003), 20th Century Fox [DVD].
- Christopher Golden. Alien: River of Pain, p. 150 (2014), Titan Books.
- Aliens versus Predator 2 (2001), Monolith Productions, Sierra Entertainment, Fox Interactive [Microsoft Windows].
- Alan Dean Foster. Alien, p. 261 (2014), Titan Books.
- Alien: Isolation (2014), Creative Assembly, SEGA [Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One].
- Alan Dean Foster. Aliens, p. 50 (2014), Titan Books.
- Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, p. 147 (2012), Titan Books.
- "Strange Shapes - The Derelict/Pyramid/Silo". Retrieved on 2014-10-24.
- Alien Legacy trading cards — 47. The Space Derelict (1998), Inkworks.
- John Hurt, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, David Giler, Sigourney Weaver. The Alien Saga (2002), Prometheus Entertainment [DVD].
- Lee Shargel, Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping. Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models International #45, p. 23 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, p. 159 (2012), Titan Books.