This is going to be a bit of a story, I’m afraid ... please bear with me. Or, just skip to the deck plans, below!
Here’s the thing: when you start to analyse it in any detail, you'll very soon realise that the Nostromo, as a design effort, is a mess. A huge mess. And there is a good reason why this is so.
Once upon a time, she wasn’t called the Nostromo. She wasn’t even an interstellar tug. In the early drafts, the ship was called the “Earthship ‘Snark’”. It then became the “deep space commercial vessel ‘Snark’”. I bit later it became the “modified Lockheed CM88B Bison transporter ‘Leviathan’”, and eventually, as we all know, the “commercial towing vehicle ‘the Nostromo’”.
It bears noting that the Nostromo is not, repeat, NOT a “Lockmart Bison” (“Lockmart” is abbreviated from Lockheed Martin) as the game stipulates – the Bison model refers to one of the (many) abandoned earlier concepts; this one by Ron Cobb.
Further, the deck plans that Fria Ligan give us for the class in Chariot of the Gods – while absolutely correct, from a certain point of view – are also, I’m afraid, utter nonsense. I’ll go into a bit of detail why.
Much of the problem with trying to make sense of the Nostromo today stems partly from the fact that very little was ever actually detailed about the final Nostromo, and partly from fandom.
Fandom has taken in all information available on the ship in ALIEN – including early production concepts, soundstage drawings, deleted scenes in early drafts of the screenplay, etc – and, due to the dearth of official data to the contrary, decided that all of it must be canonical. ALL of it.
Most particularly though – snippets of information from Cobb’s Leviathan drawings, as this was the most detailed of all the early ship concepts.
Thus, since Cobb’s Leviathan was a “Bison”, the fandom has decided that the Nostromo must be one, too. Since the Leviathan was a cargo ship, the Nostromo must also have cargo holds and provisions for handling freight. Since the Leviathan was a “modified transporter” (implying perhaps an earlier military use), the Nostromo must have a military background, as well. Since the Leviathan has an observation dome called for in early versions of the script, the Nostromo must have one, too. Since side notes in Cobb’s sketches state the Leviathan had been retrofitted with “thrust tunnels” for increased vertical lift, the Nostromo must also have “thrust tunnels” … somewhere … and so on, and so forth.
By the time the production actually comes around to designing the Nostromo, all of this detail has been dropped. Cobb draws up a bunch of concept sketches for the towing vehicle, and the model shop builds something … not entirely dissimilar. There’s a lot more to it, including some executive … involvement … by Sir Ridley, but … essentially.
The next unfortunate thing fandom has given us is adding details that seem to “make sense”, even though they aren’t seen in the film … but reasonably would have been, had the ship had them. Such as elevators. How else do you get Kane in full space suit to the sick bay? Never mind we never see anyone use one; just those pesky ladders…
Or a second shuttle. If there’s one under one “wing”, there must be one under the other, right? So how come we ever only see the Narcissus, and it’s a problem to evacuate because “the shuttle won’t take four”? Um … the other one is broken…?
The other persistent nemesis in trying to make some real sense of the Nostromo is the shooting sets. On several different levels. But most particularly, the soundstage drawings for the “A-Deck” configuration of the main set.
It must be understood that a set is not a model of a “real” place (albeit imaginary). It can be, but mostly it just isn’t. What it actually is, is just a convenient arrangement of suitable spaces to shoot scenes, as required by the script. So, the same stretch of corridor can be re-used as several different locations, the same door can lead to many different rooms. Re-dress it, and the bridge can become the shuttle, the infirmary can become the engineering control room, the corridors run on an entirely different deck…
Unfortunately for us, the set drawings also look a lot like a “real” deck plan…
And unfortunately, that “A-Deck” set drawing is, indeed, the “deck plan” we get in Chariot of the Gods.
But if you set scenes from the movie against that drawing, you’ll soon realise that it doesn’t add up. For one thing – it’s just that one deck. Dozens of compartments seen in the movie just aren’t there. And if you try to follow how characters move through scenes in the movie, the set plans won’t allow you to draw straight lines. For instance, in the extended version of the movie, we see Ripley, just seen on the bridge, descend a ladder to arrive at the infirmary. But on the soundstage, in that version of the sets, the bridge and the infirmary are built on the same floor.
This has made some fans rationalise that Ripley took a detour (probably to the observation dome…) on the way, just so that they don’t need to break that set drawing apart!
You’ll find that same set drawing used as the base for the Nostromo’s interior in the “Ripley” expansion scenarios for ALIEN Isolation, but while the game does provide more decks, unfortunately, those other decks are mostly random jumbles of corridors and compartments, with only incidental relation to what we see in the film.
A much better effort can be found in Graham Langridge’s recently published “ALIEN The Blueprints” … an invaluable source book for all ALIEN RPG GM’s, I’d say.
Graham still gets a lot of things wrong though, in my mind. He still takes the set drawing as canonical (he is a firm adherent of the “detour” school), with the addition of a locker room in a corner the camera never looks in the movie. He adds crew elevators and cargo holds – even cargo lifts! – and a second shuttle; he makes the tubular funnel sticking out at the front into a, in my mind nonsensical, docking tube … he fudges a lot more of the geometry than necessary.
But most importantly: you can’t follow the single one truly canonical source for the Nostromo’s layout – being the movie! – through his version. Left turns become right, intersections are missing, vast spaces become merely large, characters must follow strange routes to move between scenes … the acid burning through the decks in the movie would move through entirely different spaces, and end up nowhere at all.
So – all of this being said – can I do any better?
Well … I honestly don’t know. I certainly can’t do a more beautiful work than Graham!
But I can at least try to do something I myself feel is more faithful to the movie.
And so … here’s my contribution.
My core position, as it were, in doing this has been that there are two canonical sources: one, the movie itself, and two, Sir Ridley’s description of his vision for the milieu as “truckers in space”. Everything else has needed to follow from this.
And so, the very first irrefutable, canonical fact we learn about the setting Alien takes place in – at least, right after “hey, we’re in space” and “oh look, there’s a ship” – is the caption that states “commercial towing vehicle ‘the Nostromo’”.
So the Nostromo, then, is a deep space towing ship; likely very much like our current real-world deep-sea ocean tugs. However, it has never seemed likely to me that she should be able to actually, physically tow the payload – big as she is, next to the refinery, she’s still but a mosquito.
What this suggests to me is that the Nostromo must be a hyperspace tug – the unit to contain the hyperspace generator; vastly oversized to be able to envelop something as huge as the towed payload in its bubble. Ergo, all thrusters and antigrav systems to shift the payload in realspace are on board the payload; the Nostromo’s contribution as a towing vehicle is one huge hyperspace generator.
So, to my mind, all the Nostromo is must basically be just a ridiculously oversize hyperdrive along with the necessary systems and subsystems to power it, support it, and to move it around in realspace – with only a bare minimum of accommodation for anything else, such as the crew – all crammed into the smallest shell practical.
And this starts defining the geometric constraints for us: the by far largest feature of the ship, occupying by far the largest volume of the ship’s hull, must by definition be the hyper generator, because that is the one feature, the single function, that the entire ship is built around.
And fortunately, we are given these in the movie: we see the vast cathedral-like engineering space that the control room overlooks – clearly this, then, must be the hyper generator. And the exterior of the Nostromo’s hull has a very distinctly bulging midsection that even extends upwards towards the docking socket and sideways towards the nacelles – clearly this, then, must be the hyper generator’s housing.
Everything else sort of … follows.
What you see here is still a bit of a work in progress, but I’d say it’s about 90-95% done. Sufficient to be useful, I think:
(Story continues below, for those interested.)
My ambition here has been to not do what Sir Arthur Evans did with Knossos, but rather try to accomplish something akin to what Barbara Strachey once did for the Lord of the Rings fandom in “Journeys of Frodo”: draw a map that allows you to draw a red line, scene by scene, tracking every shot and pan, the movement of every character throughout the entire story, hopefully without in the end having left anything unaccounted for.
Around this map, I also wanted to build a plausible hyperspace tug. This has meant adding stuff never seen or even hinted at, but that is necessary to make the ship work, and to connect different parts of the ship – for instance, how do you get from the Engineering control room to the galley? Where is the power plant? Where do Brett and Parker go to build the cattle prods and "flame units"? ... What other subsystems are there, and where are they located?
One pesky thing has been the floodlights seen suspended underneath the aft portion of the ship during the landing sequence. Obviously, there is no place to stow them where they hang … but still, they’re there … so how to solve that?
I have postulated that the lights fold down and are stowed in garages under the main hull, and deploy on rails (too thin to be seen at the distances we get to view the ship). This would also account for why the positions the lights are suspended at are slightly asymmetrical:
In struggling to figure this ship out, I’ve also needed to make some postulations about how the technology in this future world needs to work in order to be consistent with the movie.
For instance, the power plants need to be fusion reactors; this is the most consistent with what we see at the end of the movie.
Moreover, the thrusters must be some kind of a non-Newtonian reactionless thruster technology (in clear violation of known physics, but a staple in SciFi, so I’ll let it slide). There is nowhere to store the reaction mass we needed to just land and take off, let alone move around in space. And besides, hey, we obviously have artificial gravity, so that’s no huge leap…
A bit more complex is this: since I place the “L3” airlock that is used for Kane’s burial on the side of the main hull, I somehow have to account for the body shooting out of the hull on a lateral vector, but in the next shot passing underneath the Narcissus on a longitudinal vector. Physically … not easy to explain.
Now, going for something crude like saying that the body, off-screen, ricochets like a flipper ball between the nacelle and the main hull before the next shot when we see it again, now on its final vector, would be unsatisfactory.
Instead, I have postulated something about how the Alien universe’s hyperspace technology might work, practically – here's how it goes:
Imagine that the hyperdrive generator, in bringing the ship to hyperspace, first needs to accelerate it to a c-fractional velocity. This would take some days of constant acceleration at several dozen m/s², before the hyperrelativistic bubble can form.
The inertial compensators of the ship's artificial gravity masks this immense acceleration for everything inside the hull, but as soon as an object leaves the artificial gravity field, it will continue to coast on inertia at the speed the ship (and therefore the object) had at the moment of separation, while the ship itself continues to accelerate away from the object, seemingly leaving it behind — or, from the ship's relative frame of reference, making the object seem to shoot away in a sternward direction.
Therefore, Kane's body does indeed leave the ship on a lateral vector, but in the same instant, the ship's continuous acceleration "leaves" it there. The body does continue to move on the vector away from the airlock, but that motion is rapidly dwarfed by the hyperdrive acceleration of the ship, which makes the body instead seem to fly off on a sternward trajectory.
Fortunately though, this explanation also accounts for another conundrum: why Ripley, when escaping the Nostromo, uses the Narcissus’s tiny bow thrusters to back away from the ship the long way (having to also clear the enormous payload) instead of using the quad of much bigger main thrusters to shoot away forwards – and why these insignificant thrusters seem to impart such enormous velocity in no time at all. But if the bow thrusters actually only break the contact between the Narcissus and the Nostromo’s inertial compensation field, it would in fact be the hyperdrive acceleration pushing the Nostromo away from the Narcissus at a fantastic rate, instead of the other way around – which makes heading aft, even with weaker thrusters, the absolutely fastest way for Narcissus to escape the ship.
Anyway – enjoy! Let me know if you have any questions.