We've all seen this -- Battlestar Galactica space helmets have lights inside the helmet, illuminating the actor's face, so the audience can identify characters. So do the suits used on the surface of (later called) Acheron in Alien (1979) (well, they're mounted on top, outside the pressurized part, but they do shine on the face). I don't recall for sure, but this may have been the case with 2001: A Space Odyssey as well (it isn't; every image I could find of Bowman with his helmet on is well illuminated, but from outside the helmet), and it continues to the present day in The Expanse. We've got questions around about why these exist (out of universe, it's for character recognition, of course).

My question, however, is where did this trope appear first? I don't recall it when Kirk got trapped outside the Enterprise in "The Tholian Web" -- they used compositing, as I recall, to make him reconizable. It definitely appears in the first appearance of Galactica (theatric release before the series, 1978). Who had it earlier than that? Some schlock film of the 1950s, one of the serials of the 1930s?

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    I actually don't recall there being lights, certainly not the tropish ones, in 2001. If there are they are extremely well placed imo and intended purely as out of universe illumination as opposed to a design element (like other movies). Could be wrong about that
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 19, 2021 at 14:55
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    @NKCampbell I said above, I don't recall either. Seems to me we could see Dave's face pretty well when he went EVA with a mismatched helmet after his decompression episode -- but then when he was in HAL's maintenance space, the whole area was well lit, so that's not a good example.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 19, 2021 at 15:11
  • Okay, I just Googled some photos of Bowman in his helmet, and though his face is well illuminated, the light source is ambient and outside the helmet (which makes good sense, with Kubrick's drive for realism in the filming).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 19, 2021 at 15:17
  • I haven't found anything earlier than Battlestar Galactica (1978) either.
    – DavidW
    Oct 19, 2021 at 15:36
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    @skyjack Given I don't see evidence of in-helmet face lights in any of the photos from 2001 that I found when I googled for them, I think that was intended to suggest a (then SF) ability to darken the visor without having to flip down a separate cover (as NASA suits did as late as, um, today). Liquid crystal filters hadn't been invented yet -- score another one for Clarke/Kubrick.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 20, 2021 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


I've sampled a number of science fiction films and TV shows, and the earliest instance of a space helmet with internal lights that I was able to find was Outland, a film from 1981 starring Sean Connery. This seems surprisingly late. Like many other commentators I would have sworn that the helmets in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had internal lights, but that seems not to be the case. As was pointed out in comments, the helmets in Alien (1979) did have lights shining on the actors' faces, but the lights were external to the helmets.

A previous answer suggested the original Battlestar Galactica, but I am not convinced those helmets were truly space helmets - they were not air-tight for example.

So I put this forward just to set a mark. If someone finds a film/tv show with a date earlier than 1981, post away!

Sean Connery wearing a spacesuit in "Outland", with internal lights in the helmet

  • On the Battlestar Galactica helmets seeming to not be airtight, the TV Tropes page "In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face" says the lights were intended to be "the emitters of a force field that kept the pilot's air in". Maybe someone can find a reference if this was stated on the show and add it to the other answer, though one could debate whether air held by a force field counts as a "space helmet" (presumably if you just have a fully-body force field to keep air in like the animated Star Trek, that wouldn't count!)
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 22, 2021 at 14:56

Just to put an answer on this, so it's not answered solely in comments, the earliest anyone has been able to find is 1978 in the original Battlestar Galactica.

Front view of Lt. Bojay in a Viper cockpit wearing a helmet with a band of lights above the brow and below the jaw

Front view of Boomer

Several more pilots are visible in the trailer:

  • Just to nitpick, were the Battlestar Galactica helmets really space helmets? They didn't even have a face-plate (or did they keep air in with forcefields or something?). Oct 22, 2021 at 6:41
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    There is a scene where Starbuck and Apollo perform repairings outside the viper in space. But I don't remember if they switch helmets. But it seems so: en.battlestarwikiclone.org/wiki/Space_suit_(TOS) So, no. That are no space helmets.
    – Hothie
    Oct 22, 2021 at 9:40

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