Floating Space Cities [refs1]

June 17, 2024
3 min read

This weekend, I re-watched some episodes of an old TV cartoon called "Ghostbusters", made by the awesome Filmation in the mid-80s. There was another cartoon called "The Real Ghostbusters" based on the 1984 film, which I also liked but a bit less (deep inside I think "Ghostbusters" opening won my childheart from start). But back to the story, I was surprised to see a floating domed space city that had actually being stuck in my memory since childhood! It clearly (almost obviously) reminded me of the "Air Fortress" game my dad had for Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 80s. I vividly remember him enjoying this game, which is actually a pretty good sci-fi title for the NES (I can only recommend it, especially its OST).

After cross-checking release dates, I discovered that Filmation's concept (1986) came out a year before Air Fortress (1987). The massive floating and dome space city (or fortress) is such a cool idea, and it made me want to investigate further.

I started looking for other space cities to see if I could find any older references to the dome concept. I did come across Sky City in Flash Gordon TV Show from the 1950s (floating yes, but no dome):

Planet-bound domed city like in Logan's Run (novel from 1967) and film from 1977:

Some interesting dome structures on the Moon in the british TV series Space: 1999 (1975-1977). By the way, I love the typography here.

Found a very similar concept in the 1972 film "Silent Running". This film features biodomes attached to a spacecraft, just like the ones from "Air Fortress" and "Ghostbusters". These biodomes in the film are used to preserve Earth's remaining plant life.

Good to note, cities inside domes seems to be an old idea, see for example this artwork from Mechanix Illustrated, circa 1957, “The House You Will Live Tomorrow”. This futuristic concept illustrated a vision of living in protected, self-sustaining environments, hinting at a dystopian idea—the need for a dome, is our air so compromised? Very distopic for the 1950's, maybe inspired by Cold War, who knows...

One of the earliest mainstream depictions of a domed space city was done by Dick Calkins in the comic "Buck Rogers in the City of Floating Globes", published in 1935. This particular story features Buck Rogers and his companions encountering a futuristic city that floats in the sky. These floating globes are advanced habitats, showcasing the early sci-fi concept of self-sustaining environments suspended in space.

With their vast array of artists and stories, comics often explore innovative ideas long before they become mainstream in films and TV shows. This makes it challenging to pinpoint the origins of specific concepts like domed cities in space, but it’s clear that there is a synergy between different media. In this context, the earliest example similar to "Air Fortress" (video game) and the scene from "Ghostbusters" (cartoon) is indeed "Silent Running" (film).

From a personal perspective, I really enjoy the practice of being attentive to concepts and references across different fields in art and design. Despite the enjoyment it brings, both disciplines are part of a continuous historical narrative, and this clearly shows that creations are not made ex nihilo but are inspired by earlier works.