"Prometheus" is meant to be a prequel to "Alien", happening 30 years before (src).

If that's the case, how come one of the very earliest spaceships, Prometheus from 2089, has a spiffy new technology, while Nostromo has antique text based CRTs, mechanical IBM style keyboards, and all the associated technologies screaming "1980s called, and they want their IBM PC back!" ?

The great visuals of this can be seen in this Youtube Video here (ignore the russian voice-over - the guy is a movie critic who is complaining pretty much of the same discrepancy listed above).

Please note that I'm looking ONLY for in-universe answers (movies, scripts, explanations from creative team). I'm utterly un-interested in the obvious out of universe "well, for 1979 Alien film, 1980s technologies was the future, and 2012 movie is expected to look futuristic in 2012, duh" or speculations that make sense but aren't confirmed in canon.

And for those who don't believe me... to quote the immortal quip from Men in Black 2:

Old and busted:

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New hotness:

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    I doubt that any in-universe answer is even possible. That's the nature of movies, they're made for a target audience - the paying audience of the first few weeks of the movie's run. Everyone else is secondary, and who the heck cares what people are going to think in 30 years. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 5:51
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    @Donald.McLean - So far, Ridley Scott had an in-universe answer to most "Prometheus" 'issues'. What makes you so sure he didn't have one for this? (like, Nostromo was a truck hauler, and built on the cheap earlier than Prometheus; the latter being the pride and joy of Weyland company). Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 6:25
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    While the question may seem valid, sometime I think that you look too deep into these kind of things.
    – Kalissar
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 15:41
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    @DVK - for the record, my downvote was an initial reaction to what I saw as a rather aggressive rant. Then I saw the "ONLY for in-universe" - but couldn't change my vote by then. The premise of the question is valid, but I still wouldn't upvote without the question's tone being changed to something less aggressive.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 0:09
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    @Kalissar - are you unclear on the concept of this site? Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:28

7 Answers 7


Firstly, Nostromo was constructed in 2101, only 12 years after Prometheus.

Secondly, not all types of vehicles have the same level of UI polish. Generally, military and industrial vehicles/systems tend to look a bit dated compared to the latest consumer vehicles/products.

Here's a cutting edge F-35 cockpit: F35 cockpit with physical buttons and dials typical of military cockpits

Here's the Eurofighter, which is about ten years older: A Eurofighter cockpit with similar green monochrome displays and physical dials/buttons

Here's an oil refinery's control center: Modern oil refinery control center with grids of lights and buttons in front of the controller

The Nostromo, by the time of Alien, was an old freighter hauling along a massive ore refinery. So the appearance of its computer interfaces isn't that surprising.

So why does the USCSS Prometheus look the way it does? Well, it was the most advanced/expensive starship of its day, whose mission was of much greater importance to Weyland Industries than Nostromo's was to Weyland-Yutani. It's a bit like comparing a corporate jet or Airforce One with a freight plane, or perhaps an industrial warehouse or factory to a state of the art science or technology center.

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    +1 - Prometheus seems to be almost like a personal yacht rather than a working (I don't mean "functional", but one being employed for work) ship like the Nostromo was.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 14:07
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    It's also a common practice, even today, to use outdated but compatible technology as viable repair parts to save on costs. Parts of the Nostromo seemed to have that "cobbled together" feel to them that many work horse trucks and machines have. Great answer!
    – Monty129
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 16:27
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    @Monty129: Indeed. Such vehicles are also typically designed to be very standardized (relying on old, battle-tested standards), modular, and Spartan to facilitate on-the-spot repairs as well as ease of upgrades using 3rd-party components to extend their useful lifespans. But this also unfortunately gives them that clunky, cobbled together/undesigned feel. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 23:28
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    Interesting that, while the look of the two cockpits is markedly different, the UI (user interface) is virtually identical. Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 18:28
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    Excellent answer. Personally, I prefer the Nostromo-style interfaces anyway. They're so antique at this point that watching it now almost makes it seem futuristic again.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 19:29

I think this could be a way to salvage this disparity.

Because Mr. Weyland was on board the Prometheus, he didn't spare any expense on his own behalf. Plus, he had a secret agenda to pull off; and he didn't want this seeming world-shaking discovery concerning the Engineers to be fouled up with inferior or unsophisticated equipment.

Concerning the Nostromo, it was a mining vessel designed to drill for & extract petroleum-like products to transport back to Earth. Because, according to the novelized version of Alien, written by Alan Dean Foster, Earth had already depleted its petroleum resources. Thus, since the Nostromo was merely a mining vessel, it only received minimal technological equipment/equipping. No one at Weyland Industries (aka., "the company") cared for the crew . . . As evidenced by the fact that they sacrificed the crew just to retrieve the "alien" specimen.


Abe Shelmerdine - makes a valid historical point concerning Ridley Scott's intent re the ships controls - environment. In the 'making of' videos on the DVD release (special features) he talks about the reality of a working environment. Up until this point in movies (1979) virtually all art direction had positioned space as ultra clean, white, hi-tech (e.g. 2001, the UFO and Star Trek tv series, Forbidden Planet, TDTESS) - whereas he was suggesting at this point (in Earth time) it was an every day manual, working environment. Much like a ship at sea today, even a cruise liner, they are basic when you get to the lower decks, staff quarters and control areas. This was also a mining crew / vessel on the long haul (more akin to a fishing trawler at sea) and he wanted gritty and real, so much of the ship (not all) is presented this way, including low tech. Cleverly, this also grounds the characters with the audience i.e. we could be one of them - they are normal in a recognisable space, untidy with gripes and bad habits. Its an old trick developed by Hitchcock.

Interestingly, the following year, Outland also took / stole the same artistic approach as Sean Connery re-enacted High Noon in space. He carted around a shotgun... still effective at close range, even on Io (Jupiter), in the future.

Beyond this decision, available tech / understanding is a logical factor in the limitation of Alien's ship representation by today's standards. Scott isn't trying to be a futurist in the way H.G Wells or John Wyndam were focused (at times) and it would have been somewhat bizarre to dumb back the Prometheus film experience to match it 30+ years later. And he wasn't trying to sync in detail to the first film - he has stated this post production - it would have been too restrictive for him and made the film process tedious.


To add to Lèse's great answer: Having actual keys you can hit is way easier than virtual keys on a screen. It's not so SciFi but I know nobody that would prefer a virtual keyboard over a real keyboard to write a long text. With actual keys, fingers find them very easily. On the other hand, you often do typos while using a virtual keyboard.

As for the UI: in order to have a lot of information visible on a single screen that's updated very quickly, a simple UI like on the Nostromo is way better and uses fewer resources and is less prone to bugs. The Nostromo is a freighter, i.e. way bigger than the Prometheus. It is therefore way more difficult to navigate "by eyesight" as every change requires a lot of time before it's actually effective. So, the pilots on board of the Prometheus could steer as they saw, but Nostromo's crew needed the information on the screen in order to be able to dock. A little bug can then easily crash a ship. So, the simple UI is more effective than a a lot of fancy HUD screens.


Just adding to the Lèse majesté's answer (https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/37901/39211), because it touched on the core of the issue, but I think missed the point.

Military equipment looks outdated because it needs to be ROBUST. Saying goes that "Kids and soldiers will break anything without breaking a sweat". Plane is a bad example (it is still a fragile thing and layout is there for a reason beyond what needs to be explored). Instead let's consider BFT devices (Blue Force Tracker).

That's gen I: BFT mounted in a HMMWV

This is gen II: Now it's a tablet

This is gen III:

Just a proposition

Do you see the trend?

Same thing, really, can be applied to Nostromo: it operates in very hostile and difficult environment. While Touchscreen is preferred on a starship (faster and takes less space), it nonetheless is much more fragile and easier to disrupt (not even damage). And a mining ship would be the epitomy of ruggedness, reliability and survivability and protection of the crew. Even in 100 years I would see the need to go as mechanical as possible (keyboard will work will vacuum all the same, but how about a finger in armored suit glove on a screen?), for an equipment that's not afraid of being slammed by fast moving/heavy/sharp objects, emergency decompression, unstable power, sparking, arcing... You name it. Also, mining is SECOND, after military, consumer of high-explosives... One would think that makes one pause to think what's it like to work in mining...

As a side note: for now, the biggest challenge there is in building a ship for a manned Mars mission is radiation. We and quite a big chunk of space around Earth is protected by it's EM shield (though not in every direction). This will not be the case aywhere beyond the Moon orbit., and the radiation levels in in-system interplanetary space are on average quite lethal. ANd that's on a good day. Imagine a "bad day" for a mining ship...


I think that the most logical answer to this question is that the Prometheus was built as I quote “the flagship of Weyland Yutanis fleet” and was on a very special journey whereas the Nostromo is a “space-trucker” vessel and so does the same jobs over and over. Just tugging refineries and doesn’t need amazing technology to do so and Weyland Yutani doesn’t need to spend as much on building her.


an explanation could be that the operating system was too complex and designed for a simple mining ship and so it was stripped back to pure basics as it was more reliable, keyboards included

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    Hello and welcome to the Stack Exchange! Quick note: "An explanation could be" at the beginning of an answer isn't the best sign. It usually indicates an opinion-based or subjective answer, or speculation. Might I suggest checking out the Tour to get a better idea of how to ask and answer questions here? We're not a typical discussion forum, we like questions and (especially) answers that can be backed up by something from the book/movie/comic/script. Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 10:38

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