A common event in the Alien movies is people being placed in stasis for long periods of time, presumably because space travel is a slow and arduous process.

Given the vast distances between even the most remotely-interesting interstellar destinations make them many years away even at the speed of light, is there some form of faster-than-light travel that is utilized in the Alien franchise?

  • 3
    There is some probably irreconcilable travel wankiness in the Alien universe. For example, Ripley, adrift in the escape pod between Alien and Aliens, according to Burke "That's the thing. You were out there for fifty-seven years. What happened was, you had drifted right through the core systems, and it's really just blind luck that a deep salvage team found you when they did. It's one in a thousand, really." How was this possible? Was she ejected at FTL velocity from the Nostromo?
    – Jason K
    May 20, 2016 at 20:42
  • 5
    How has nobody pointed out the obvious of Ripley's daughter? If they did not have FTL then she would expect to never have seen her daughter again. That is clearly not the case.
    – Broklynite
    Sep 7, 2016 at 23:35
  • 1
    @JasonK: Proxima Centauri is roughly 4 lightyears from Earth. Any other effects notwithstanding, technically, travelling just below lightspeed should be sufficient to traverse several star systems in the course of 57 years, so it may depend on what those "core systems" are. Jan 26, 2021 at 21:13

7 Answers 7


There is faster than light travel in the Alien universe franchise. It is demonstrated by the relatively short time (3 weeks) it takes for the Marines to arrive at LV-426, Zeta 2 Reticuli system (second moon of Zeta 2 Reticuli IV).

  • This star system is 33 light years from Earth, so their ability to reach it in such a short time indicates a well-developed FTL system, whose specifics are undefined. (Such information is not necessary to the story so it's overlooked.)

map of the Alien universe

Click to enlarge map of the Alien Universe.

  • On starships where travel between distant interstellar locations would take centuries due to slower-than-light travel (i.e. generation-ships or anything made by humanity at our current state of technological development), it makes sense to put the crew into suspended animation since it will take thousands of years to reach their destination. Even our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, which is only four light years away would take 25,000 years at our best possible speeds!

  • The Alien universe possesses faster-than-light travel so their reasons for suspended animation are likely based around the second - and equally important - reason for suspended animation after time delay: the important issue of resource management.

  • Living, moving, active crew require food, oxygen and water to go about their business of being human. It would appear, travel between stars requires very little human interaction except the initiation of the process so it makes more sense to reduce the activity of the crew because it reduces their need for resources.

  • Physically, the suspended animation process seems to have no long-lasting ill effects (witness Ripley and Jonesy's decades-long sleep and revival) so it makes sense the humans of that universe would spend their time asleep to reduce the need for storage space for water, food and air as well as entertainment.

  • It is very likely they have technology to promote the efficient recycling of those resources, but since no replication technology appeared to be available, the easiest best way to have food on hand is to NOT eat it in the first place.

For those of you curious about the ships and technology of the Alien Universe, The Alien Universe Timeline offers very interesting materials based on canonical resources.

  • 2
    I would also think a major issue is an extension of resource management idea. Lifespan of the crew. Not only would keep the crew awake "waste" food, air, and water, it also would have a significant impact on the lifespan of the crew. Say it takes 2-3 weeks to get from point to point, a round trip is about a month to a month and a half wasted.
    – erdiede
    Mar 18, 2012 at 18:07
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    And now it isn't. Jan 28, 2014 at 23:50
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    Faster-than-light is a, pardon the expression, relative term. Even at five times the speed of light, a 33 lightyear trip would still take over 6 1/2 years each way. Unless their FTL is hundreds of times faster than light some kind of hibernation would still be needed.
    – Joe L.
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:13
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    @Bardo - you are aware that we don't actually have stasis available as an option at the present moment in time? Let's wait until it's invented, and then see if it becomes preferable.
    – user8719
    Jan 9, 2015 at 13:45
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    "Modern day sailing have solved most of this problems" You must be joking. They do that by having a minimal crew - and not having the problem in the first place.... because somehow AIR is a non issue on a sailing ship, are a lot of other things. I would hadly call solving a non-existing item solving.
    – TomTom
    May 20, 2016 at 9:02

I recall the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual introducing the concept of negative (or inverse?) time dilation for FTL travel.

That is, much as the journey-time experienced by the crew of a ship traveling close-to, but below the speed of light, is less than that experienced by a stationary observer, the crew on a FTL journey would experience a longer journey than perceived by a stationary observer.

So, in the three weeks journey to LV-426 above, the crew would have experienced a considerably longer travel time, and therefore required cold-sleep to avoid wasting a large portion of their lifespan on travel.

  • Except there's no such thing as stationary. While the ship is moving at near-light-speeds relative to you, you would observe time passing more slowly for those on board - but at the same time, they would observe time passing more slowly for you. This apparent paradox (it's not really one) is only resolved when one of the two frames of reference accelerates to match the other one. The idea of it being reversed by actual FTL travel is interesting but not based on any logical extrapolation of the way it worked.
    – Mark Reed
    Feb 27, 2017 at 0:33
  • @MarkReed - It's could be an extrapolation of relativity theory, whose metric gives you the proper time along timelike (slower-than-light) worldlines, but can also give proper distance along spacelike curves (and the worldlines of faster-than-light particles would be spacelike). If you assume proper distance is experienced as subjective time for people that have been converted to tachyons by the "tachyon shunt", it is true the proper distance is longer the greater the FTL speed.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 19, 2022 at 15:48
  • BTW there is a little more detail on how the FTL drive in the Aliens universe is supposed to work, including the tachyon shunt which converts ordinary particles to tachyons, in this reddit post which is summarizing the Alien: Colonial Marines Technical Manual
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 19, 2022 at 15:51

According to the website the Weyland corporation had two patents of interest:

  1. Weyland FTL Lifeboat: Exclusively designed for FTL craft of a suitable size, this emergency sustaining pod is an embedded safety module comprised of 7 luxury-appointed rooms, complete with independent navigation and piloting controls. Reclaiming decontamination system allows one occupant 50 years of breathable air with or without hypersleep.

  2. Heliades: As the first-ever FTL space exploration vehicle, Heliades revolutionized the known galaxy. Dual FTL engines are driven by a 2.1 terrawatt RL fusion reactor. The ability to provide molecularly stable transport for ship components and human crew over light-years of space gives Weyland explorers, scientists and planetary engineers access to regions never before imagined. ICC-certified and compliant, our newest flagship model has a payload capacity of up to 9 megatonnes and a redesigned airframe and features a medical bay, lab facilities, and over a dozen HES-compatible chambers.

In May 2032 (only a few years from now!) "Weyland scientists discover the inverse relationship between velocity and the flow of time making the long sought-after concept of faster than light travel a reality. The search for practical application begins." While by January 2045 "Weyland Corp introduces the first FTL-capable SEV (space exploration vehicle)."


For the USS Sulaco to have gone from Earth (Sol System) to LV-426 (Zeta 2 Reticuli) they would have had to been traveling at 13 times the speed of light. Since they got there in 3 weeks and Zeta 2 Reticuli is approximately 39 light years away.

  • 3
    39 years have ~2035 weeks. so about 678c, not 13.
    – ths
    Sep 7, 2016 at 8:11
  • What is "c" in the context that ths used it? Because to me it looks like Sc-Fi lover is right, and what would 678c be? Just curious. Sep 7, 2016 at 23:24
  • @AllIgotarequestions "c" generally denotes the speed of light. Also, if you want to reply to somebody's comment on your post, please use a comment (or edit your post) rather than posting a new answer. You might like to take our tour to find out how questions and answers work here.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 8, 2016 at 0:53

In Alien (1979), the "Nostromo" is in the Zeta 2 Reticuli system which is 39 light years from Earth and it is said that the journey will still last 10 months. Which implies a speed of about 47 times the speed of light.

From transcriptions:

RIPLEY: Calling Antarctica traffic control. Do you read me, Antarctica? Over. (x2)

LAMBERT: I've found it, just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't reached the outer rim yet.


DALLAS: How far to Earth.

LAMBERT: Ten months.

Edit: This is the only ANSWER, so far that highlights the presence of FTL travel as internal evidence already in the first movie (i.e. "Alien",1979).

  • 1
    This is already stated in the answers above
    – Valorum
    Jul 10, 2022 at 6:46
  • It does not seem to me that it is said in any answer that the FTL travel is already present in the first movie ("Alien"), bringing exact quotes from the film. There is no need to discuss "Aliens" and the subsequent movies to settle the matter, the first film is enough. Furthermore, the map shown in the accepted answer, although interesting, is the result of the work of fans (Winchell Chung). So in no way it can be considered "official". So my contribution is new and useful and if you are intellectually honest you should remove the downvote. Jul 10, 2022 at 10:28
  • At best the quote could have been edited into one of the (two) answers above that mention Zeta Reticuli
    – Valorum
    Jul 10, 2022 at 11:08
  • I think you're missing the target. None of the other answers mention the first "Alien" movie, just the sequels. My answer focuses on the evidence that emerges from two dialogues from the very first film. Such quotes would not make sense in the context of the other answers. Jul 10, 2022 at 12:14
  • I also add that the fact that Zeta Reticuli is mentioned in the other answers is obvious, since the first film already fixes once and for all the location of LV-426. But it is important that already in the first film decisive elements are given to establish that the FTL travel is present. The other answers do not focus on this aspect. Jul 10, 2022 at 12:33

As per Thaddeus Howze's answer, ships are definitely capable of FTL travel in the Alien universe. But I don't think the stasis pods are there for dealing with time dilation.

First, modern subs carry a year's worth of food and they are cramped and have limited space. Water is another issue but can be recycled easily as with the International Space Station. There is another reason for the stasis.

Keep in mind that FTL travel often means the space the ship is on is traveling faster than the speed of light, not the ship itself. So no time dilation would be experienced by the crew. See Alcubierre drive. The limiting factor for FTL travel would absolutely be the availability of exotic matter needed.

It is more than likely that in the Alien universe this matter is also extremely rare and extremely expensive to produce. Therefore​ some missions of great importance (the marines missions to investigate the lost colony) could be authorized to use FTL travel. Cargo missions would be relegated to using sub light propulsion and the necessity of stasis becomes paramount.

  • As I tried to clarify in my answer, even the freighter "Nostromo" (in "Alien", 1979) travels faster than light. But not instantaneously, in fact, the journey between Thedus and the Earth is of the order of the year, so hibernation is useful. Jul 10, 2022 at 16:21

In Alien 3 when the warden was telling his prisoners (rumor-control was how he put it, IIRC) that Ripley had crash-landed on the penal colony, he said a ship had been sent to pick her up (I don't remember the ship's exact ETA but I seem to recall it would get there in weeks) so unless it came from somewhere in the same solar system, it probably would need some form of FTL to reach the colony in that span of time.

  • Or maybe the penal colony was closely orbiting a black hole and the gravity well was causing time dilation there, so their apparent wait was only 3 weeks but it took hundreds of years in Earth time. Sep 7, 2016 at 16:19

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