Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Prodigy theory: The series ship will be USS Voyager's missing Aeroshuttle

With the announcement that the new animated children's TV series Star Trek: Prodigy will take place in the Delta Quadrant some years after the USS Voyager visited, and that Captain Janeway's part in the series will be in the form of an emergency training hologram, it starts to get one wondering: What is this Starfleet ships the young alien crew the series is about are going to take command of, and how did a holographic Janeway find herself installed there? Well one idea springs to my mind: The Aeroshuttle!

The what? For those unfamiliar: The Aeroshuttle is one of those almost forgotten ideas you sometimes get in TV production, a concept brewed up early on in development of the series, but never called upon by the needs of the plot. It is a distinctive smallcraft attached to the underside of the USS Voyager's saucer section, in much the same way the captain's yacht is on the USS Enterprise-E. 


We got to see the Enterprise's smaller friend in action in the movie Insurrection, but Voyager's Aeroshuttle, like the Enterprise-D's captain's yacht before, never enjoy any on-screen adventures. Although like the D's yacht in TNG, it has the curious distinction of quietly appearing in every single episode of Voyager, docked to the ship.

The Aeroshuttle did appear in comics once, in Marvel's Splashdown(ad) miniseries. In that story Voyager had ended up sinking into an alien ocean, and the Aeroshuttle (called the Aerowing per the production staff's name for the ship), was launched to investigate nearby locations to try and solve Voyager's dilemma. Tuvok notes it's aerodynamic shape makes it ideal for use underwater. Kim meanwhile nods to the reader, in remarking how the entire crew had been itching for a reason to make use of the ship.


But that's it, apart from a few reference book notes and a Ships of the Line calendar image, this shuttle remains an enigma.

According to those reference works, including The Official Starships Collection(ad) (which of course made a model of the ship, and gave the image at the top of the page in the accompanying magazine), the Starship Spotter(ad) book, the USS Voyager Illustrated Handbook(ad), and as you might take from the name and design, the shuttle was designed with atmospheric flight optimisation in mind. The Aeroshuttle was also modelled after a runabout, keeping a similar core section, but adding new nacelles and wings - In the real world, had it ever been called upon, that could have meant the existing runabout sets from DS9 could have been used rather than having to build new ones. 

A large durable shuttle designed for atmospheric flight... That spec sounds familiar: It's exactly why the Voyager crew built the Delta Flyer, to dive into a gas giant and reclaim a probe in the episode Extreme Risk. So why not use the Aeroshuttle?

Well, it didn't exist is the simple real-world answer. As revealed in Designing Starships The USS Voyager and Beyond(ad), while the outline on the underside of Voyager's saucer was there from the start, the fully realised design for the Aeroshuttle wasn't created until after the Delta Flyer had already been built, inspired by that shuttle no less. Voyager VFX artists Rob Bonchune and Adam 'Mojo' Lebowitz modelled the ship based on a Rick Sternbach concept, and even put together a launch sequence video to woo producers with, in the hope of inspiring future appearances in the show. But by then the captain's yacht sequence for Insurrection was under development, and producer Rick Berman didn't want to lessen the impact of that coming moment. So the Aeroshuttle remained nothing but an outline on Voyager's hull.


Where is the Aeroshuttle in-universe?

The lack of in-universe use of the Aeroshuttle in the show has been a subject of speculation for years for starship fans. If Voyager had a large shuttlecraft attached to it all along, why did they never use it? Especially at that moment when they needed a ship a lot like the Aeroshuttle, and built the Delta Flyer instead. It's easy enough to rationalise though:
  • Maybe Voyager never actually had an Aeroshuttle; maybe it's port on the saucer was just placeholder hull panel awaiting arrival of the shuttle that could never happen once Voyager got lost.
  • Maybe it was there but not quite complete and operational by the time Voyager launched, and the crew never got round to fixing it up to be used - Although they did seem to repair, rebuild, and build anew plenty of other shuttles, not least two Delta Flyers!
  • Maybe it was damaged in an early unseen adventure, and never repaired.
  • Maybe the Voyager crew cannibalised parts from the Aeroshuttle to fix Voyager or the other shuttlecraft, leaving it unusable.
  • Maybe it was deemed too risky to potentially leave a vulnerable gap in Voyager's hull should anything ever happen to the Aeroshuttle while away from the mothership, so they just kept it in place forever.

How the Aeroshuttle could fit into Prodigy

One more possible explanation could link the Aeroshuttle to Prodigy. Maybe it got lost? What if the crew installed a hull panel over the empty launch port because at some point the Aerowing was abandoned in the Delta Quadrant, and some years later found by the young crew set to appear in Prodigy.

It fits the bill quite nicely: A small ship, that takes a crew of about six. Modelled after a runabout it's still a solid warp capable ship in its own right, able to be used for exploring strange new worlds as we saw the runabouts used for many times. Crucially, it's part of Voyager, which could explain why a holographic Captain Janeway is part of its systems.

Aesthetically does it work for the series? This is the original design by Foundation Imaging, made for that pitch to the producers (via the Drex Files):





And this is the concept for the Rick Sternbach's "Manta Shuttle" the above CG ship was based on:


The fact the ship was never more than concepts is key. The makers of Prodigy could take the basic idea of the Aeroshuttle - The captain's-yacht-like runabout-sized smallcraft that was once attached to the USS Voyager - And take it in a completely different direction. It could have a different name, a different spec, and a completely different design; as it was only ever defined in canon by the outline on Voyager's saucer. While the Aeroshuttle as we currently know it is probably a massive longshot, the basic concept it represents could easily be interpreted into whatever Prodigy needs it to be.


Why the Aeroshuttle might not be the best candidate for Prodigy

Well firstly hardly anyone knows about this ship, so it's not like it appearing will mean much to many fans (although will certainly delight those of us who do know of it). 

It's also maybe too small. Sure it could take a crew of six, but they won't have much room to live around each other, and only have two or three rooms for all the on-ship action in the series to take place - While it seems a stretch to have a crew of six take control of a really big starship, maybe it does need to be more than a runabout-with-wings? 

Likewise, is this robust enough to survive whatever adventures they get up to? Well we all know the ship will have capabilities and ability to survive in line with the plot no matter what form it takes, so that's less of an issue.


If not the Aeroshuttle, then what?

There are of course many possibilities beyond the Aeroshuttle. But the Janeway hologram feels like the limiting factor to me: If say another Starfleet ship was pulled to the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker, why would it have a Captain Janeway hologram?

So surely it has to be directly linked to Voyager some how. If not a lost Aeroshuttle, then something else left behind? Maybe it's even Voyager itself; one of the many potential temporal copies from various time travel mishaps, spatial anomalies, or Krenim encounters?


Backup theory

I do have one other idea that would scratch another Voyager mystery-ship itch. In the episode Life Line, Admiral Hayes mentions "We've redirected two deep space vessels toward your position. If all goes well, they could rendezvous with you in the next five to six years." What if these are automated rather than crewed ships, and on them, to make them familiar for the Voyager crew when they meet up, is a Captain Janeway hologram ready to tell the crew how to make use of these new ships? 

That could give us a bigger ship. Perhaps a really fast ship that could eventually see the young crew travel to Federation space from the other side of the Delta Quadrant. Maybe a ship with more advanced holographic systems than we know Voyager and any attached ships had when they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, allowing mentor-Janeway to follow the young crew around the whole ship.

One niggle with this idea though, is that holo-Janeway is in her Voyager uniform, not the grey uniforms used by Starfleet by the time Voyager was able to re-establish communications with the Alpha Quadrant.


What do you think? Would you like to see the Aeroshuttle in action after all these years? Or is there another idea that jumps out to you that explains this mysterious other Starfleet ship left in the Delta Quadrant?


To learn more about the Aeroshuttle, you really can't do better than Eaglemoss's model and magazine(ad), as the magazine fills in some in-universe backstory for the ship, and a full account of it's real-world origins. Plus you get a little model ship!

Prodigy will launch on Paramount+(ad) in the US later this year, and will also be shown on Nickelodeon. International distribution has yet to be announced. To keep track of all the latest Prodigy updates, check back through my Prodigy tag




3 comments:

Carlo Recagno said...

Could well be. How is otherwise possible for a Starfleet ship to actually be in the Delta Quadrant?

Neelix02 said...

This is a very interesting breakdown off all possibilities, I totally forgot about the ships in "Life Line"

Czieławiek-Paklie said...

Eh, could be many things. Startfleet's experimental slipstream drive ship, accidental transwarp travel, went through the Barzan wormhole or an Iconian gateway. Star Trek has tons of stuff that can explain "Prodigy" in one sentence ;)