Moonraker Shuttle On Launchpad

The Moonraker Shuttle in its launch position.

The Moonraker is a fictional space shuttle variant featured in the eleventh Bond film, Moonraker. In the film, "Moonraker" is a brand name applied to a space shuttle orbiter design, built by Drax Industries for NASA. Though the actual Space Shuttle had not flown by the time Moonraker was released in 1979, the Drax Moonraker is identical in design. There were six shuttles under Drax, which were named Moonraker 1-6.

The film begins with the hijacking of a Drax Industries Moonraker in mid-air. The shuttle had been en route to the United Kingdom when the hijackers struck, igniting the shuttle's engines and destroying the 747 carrying it. During the course of the film it is revealed that the British Moonraker's theft was orchestrated by billionarire industrialist Hugo Drax because one of his original fleet developed a last-minute technical malfunction. The Moonraker shuttles were being used by Drax to ferry crew and equipment to his secret space station. From here Drax planned to annihilate the world's population, using 50 globes with a toxin derived from the Black Orchid plant capable of poisoning 100 million people.

However, five Moonrakers were blown up in the Moonraker space station's destruction; the final one, Moonraker 5, was taken over by James and Dr. Holly Goodhead, in order to destroy the three toxic globes already fired from the space shuttle (Moonraker 5 had a laser fitted to it).

Behind the scenes

When Moonraker came to be used as the title for the eleventh James Bond film, released in 1979, elements of the novel's plot were jettisoned in favor of a theme which better took advantage of the Space Craze of the late 1970s.

Unlike the film adaptation, the novel's plot revolves around Cold War nuclear weaponry. In the novel Drax began construction of the "Moonraker", Britain's first nuclear missile project, intended to defend the United Kingdom against its Cold War enemies (c.f. the real Blue Streak missile). The Moonraker rocket was to be an upgraded V-2 rocket using liquid hydrogen and fluorine as propellants; to withstand the ultra-high combustion temperatures of its engine, it used columbine, in which Drax had a monopoly. Because the rocket's engine could withstand higher heat, the Moonraker was able to use more powerful fuels, greatly expanding its effective range. In reality, however, Drax is a Nazi survivor and built the weapon to exact revenge on Britain.

As 1950s era nuclear missile technology was no longer relevant, the plot of the film was updated to focus on the new US space shuttle program, thus rewriting the story. Since NASA's Space Shuttle program had not been launched, Derek Meddings and his miniatures team had to create the rocket launch footage without any reference. Shuttle models attached to bottle rockets and signal flares were used for takeoff, and the smoke trail was created with salt that fell from the models. The space scenes were done by rewinding the camera after an element was shot, enabling other elements to be superimposed in the film stock, with the space battle needing up to forty rewinds to incorporate everything.

Videogame adaptations

The Moonraker shuttle made an appearance in GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. It appeared in the bonus level "Aztec", which was loosely based on the Moonraker film, specifically Drax's Amazonian launch complex, and featured Jaws as an enemy.

007 Legends - Space Shuttle (Moonraker)

007 Legends' depiction of the Moonraker.

The Moonraker shuttle also makes an appearance in the 2012 video game, 007 Legends, in a playable mission based around the plot of the 1979 film. While remaining faithful to the original 1979 and NASA designs, the visual design of the 2012 Moonraker has been slightly altered to give a more streamlined appearance.

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