The Moonraker was a fictional partially reusable orbital spacecraft system modeled on the real-life Space Shuttle. It was constructed by Drax Enterprise Corporation and was launched from a covert Amazonian launch complex as part of a scheme to perfect humanity through eugenics. The spacecraft appeared prominently in the eponymous 1979 James Bond film Moonraker and would be subsequently be re-imagined for the video-games Goldeneye 007 (1997) and 007 Legends (2012).
Though the actual Space Shuttle had not flown by the time Moonraker was released in 1979, the Drax Moonraker is identical in design.
In the 1979 film, "Moonraker" is a brand name applied to a space shuttle orbiter design, built by Drax Industries at their California plant for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). As with its real-life counterpart, the Moonraker's components included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV) with three clustered main engines, a pair of recoverable solid rocket boosters (SRBs), and the expendable external tank (ET). The craft was launched vertically, like a conventional rocket. The SRBs were jettisoned before the vehicle reached orbit, and the ET was jettisoned just before orbit insertion. At the conclusion of the mission, the orbiter re-entered the atmosphere to land like any conventional aircraft.
The film begins with the hijacking of a Moonraker in mid-air. Prior to the hijacking, the British government had purchased the shuttle for its space program. The Royal Air Force had worked with a tandem program with the US Air Force to deliver it to the United Kingdom when the hijackers struck, igniting the shuttle's engines and destroying the Boeing 747 carrying it. Although first chalked up as an fuel-air explosion, MI6 gave a presentation that did not add up to an accident. Satellite footage over a remote area in Greenland located the wreckage of the 747, but no remnants of the space shuttle. Q explained that a mid-air explosion should have also made millions of pieces of the Moonraker shuttle, but it is nowhere to be found.
During the course of the film it is revealed that the British Moonraker's theft was orchestrated by billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax, who originally approved the sale to the British space program, but recalled that shuttle in his own dubious way because one of his original fleet developed a last-minute technical malfunction. Six shuttles — dubbed Moonraker #1-6 — 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 by introducing a nerve agent into the atmosphere via a series of satellite globes; each with enough toxin to kill 100,000,000 people. Nearing the end of the film, five Moonrakers were destroyed in the space station's ultimate destruction. James Bond and Holly Goodhead commandeer the remaining shuttle (Moonraker #5) and chase after several released globes - destroying them using its on-board laser weaponry.
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.
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.
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 perceived to be 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.