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AppearanceAs its name indicates, the ship is saucer-shaped. The hull of the ship is painted in a striking, garish hue of red. It features a transparent, bubble-shaped canopy to seal the cockpit, which is designed for a single occupant. Two small, pointed fins emerge from the back, and two devices (seemingly the equivalent of headlights) are at the front (back and front are here relative to the pilot's orientation). As Bill Watterson's drawing style evolved, so too did the appearance of the Saucer change somewhat; the hull became a softer hue of red, and the metal plates that make it up are less visible. The Saucer also seems somewhat larger in its later appearances.
Power and Propulsion
Although no engine of any kind is ever seen on the Saucer, Spiff informs us that it operates with a "Freem Drive", or "Hyper-Freem Drive", sometimes referred to as "the engine" or "the motor" as a humorous analogy to the driving of an automobile. The ship needs to be supplied with an unspecified volatile fuel, most likely used to power the Freem Drive. The fuel produces no apparent exhaust, but the engine's operation makes a soft humming sound. "Thruster Blasters" or "Thrusters" are cited as the ship's principal means of propulsion, and can carry it near light speed when aided by gravity. No doubt for long-distance travel, the "Hyper-jets" are capable of sending the Saucer through the Fifth Dimension, a world in which "time has no meaning" that is "beyond human comprehension". Similarly, the ship features a "Hyper Light Drive" to travel at light speed and a "Turbo Hyper Thrust Drive" used to instantly break from planetary gravity into outer space. The purpose of the fins at the back is most likely not mere aerodynamism, but rather a flap or aileron mechanism of some kind; they may be the stabilizers that Spiff alludes to.
The saucer appears to have two means of exit: when Spiff engages the ejector seat or performs a regular landing, the bubble dome is thrown back (the first exit). Also, Spiff is sometimes seen emerging from his crashed vessel with the dome still closed (or at times, dug into the planet's surface), indicating the presence of a hatch at the back or, more likely, on the underside (second exit).In order to set down its occupant on difficult terrain, the Saucer is able to hover motionless and deploy a ladder of undisclosed size. Spiff once drops an anchor down from the Saucer, but as he had to open the cockpit to do so the anchor was most likely not a feature of the ship, and instead simply lugged around inside the cockpit or a storage compartment of some sort. However, the anchor was fitted securely enough that it could pull an entire planet, leading one to think that the ship is designed to be compatible with anchors.
The Saucer also appears to have a water exit, as shown in a single strip where Calvin complains about taking a bath.
WeaponryThe Saucer features a vast and exotically named, if hardly functional weaponry array. The main weapon seems to be the computer-guided "Death Ray", fired from the ship's Blaster, which delivers a destructive electric charge (it was once calibrated at a gazillion volts). Other weaponry include a "Mertilizer Beam", "Phospho Bombs", "Hydro Bombs", a "Frap-Ray Blaster", "Mordo Blasters" and a "Fizzler" (may not be a weapon). Some of these weapons or variants of them are used by Spaceman Spiff on the ground, or by his enemies in space. At one point, Spiff experiences a complete failure of the weapons system, seemingly very fragile and poorly designed.
Operation and interfaceIn the cockpit, the instrumentation and displays are arranged to wrap around the pilot, who is seated a tad closer to the front than to the back. The steering, throttle and stabilizers are accessed at the front of the cockpit, and so is the ship's computer. Spiff is never seen using or accounting for any instrumentation not directly in front of him, perhaps as a play on the science-fiction cliché of "useless dials and buttons". Behind the pilot's seat are two canisters: one might think they are for life support, but this is unlikely as Spaceman Spiff is once seen breathing in space. Instead, they may cooperate with the "pressurizing" mechanisms that are often described. Operating the Saucer is not unlike driving a car or piloting a plane, a feature which is often used humorously such as when an automobile fuel gauge is seen or how the user interface features a steering wheel. Spiff laments the ship's computer interface: indeed, the computer boots slowly and its UI is impractical in combat.
The ship is prone to calamitous total malfunction, leading Spiff to frequent crashes on uncharted planets very far from help (inexplicably, although the ship will get buried in rubble up to the cockpit, Spaceman Spiff escapes unhurt and often unfazed). At one point, Spiff is forced to step out into space, untethered, to repair the suddenly shorted-out navigation. These frequent accidents could be due to hasty repairs made on the crippled Saucer after crashing.
In one strip, Spiff mentions part of what appears to be the full launch checklist. It involves insuring the proper operation of the Altitude-O-Tron, the Gamma Beam Macerator, and the Windshield Defogger. The checklist will be foregone by Spiff to some extent in an emergency. The following is a list of known instruments and interfaces used to operate the Saucer:
- Steering wheel, arbitrarily replaced by a handlebar grip or joystick
CounterpartLike many elements of Spaceman Spiff's adventures, the Saucer is a counterpart of a real-life item, in this case a toy spaceship that Calvin is only seen using in a single Sunday strip. The design of the Saucer appears to be carried over almost exactly from this unnamed plaything.
Spiff humorously alludes to the lackluster insurance policy for his spacecraft a few times. Due to extremely frequent crashes, he has very high premiums, and he refused the towing rider (a decision he was shown bitterly regretting in one strip), preventing him from being rescued off of inhospitable, far-off alien planets.