In Interstellar, at last

Cooper reaches the space station made by his daughter. There he steals and flies in a craft.

At the time Cooper returns the technology of Aviation may have changed (I think surely). So how is he able to fly in that craft without proper training of controls at least?

  • 4
    Remember that the world was starving while he was away. Most of their (probably small) research effort would have gone towards farming and food, not a new sort of space ranger.
    – alexwlchan
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 17:58
  • 1
    Very much related: In Interstellar, how can 60-year-old robots interface with the new Ranger spacecraft?. The logic applied to why the robots can interface without problems will pretty much work here as well.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:02
  • 2
    You are making a number of assumptions about what "should have" or "must have" happened; the only valid answer is that you're assumptions are wrong and flight controls just didn't change.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:07
  • 3
    aside from the amount of automation, how much do you think has really changed about flying planes in the last 60 years?
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:18
  • 1
    He also could have had time to study the system. We're not given a timeframe of how long it took. Cooper is pretty smart, and could have studied the controls. He might have even been given training. TARS may also have helped him. I think these speculations are just as reasonable as expecting the flight interface to change so dramatically in that time frame.
    – user31178
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


Because the craft he steals is a "ranger", presumably based on (or possibly even the same as) the ranger spacecraft he was flying earlier in the film:

Cooper’s gaze found a row of Rangers—not the ones he had flown, but a new generation, even sleeker than before. Lovely to look at. How different were they, he wondered? He would love to climb into one, have a look at the controls. Were they propelled by some sort of gravity drive, as the station must be?


Cooper waited anxiously, watching the hangar door as the last of the mechanics left and locked up. He waited a few minutes, then crept near. A moment later the door opened, and he was grinning at Tars. “Setting up camp…”

Cooper pointed at one of the Rangers. Tars moved over to it and began working the hatch mechanism while Cooper kept a nervous eye out.

Tars beside him, Cooper strapped into the pilot seat, studying the controls. The robot ran a sequence as the hangar door opened to the familiar star-fretted darkness of space. Cooper grinned. Tomorrow, everyone’s in for a little surprise. - Interstellar - Novelisation

Clearly after studying the controls for a few seconds, he finds sufficient similarity to be confident of piloting it to his destination.

  • I watched this sequence carefully the last time and the future Ranger is MUCH smaller than the one used earlier. It's a simple 2 seater. OTOH, basic controls like yoke/joystick and throttles haven't changed much in the last 80 years or so. It's likely most of the important controls remained the same between the Rangers and that TARS would be able to walk him through the other stuff.
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 2:42
  • @Jim2B Are you thinking of the Ranger in his flashbacks of his crash? Or the air/spacecraft that he flew while on mission to Gargantua? The latter spacecraft were not Rangers, I don't think. The one in his flashback was much smaller, with only a seat or two.
    – TylerH
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 16:09
  • The flashback Ranger was hard to tell. Based upon outward appearances, I thought it was the same or scaled test model as the Rangers used with Endurance. The other SSTO ships were cargo haulers with similar flight performance. However, the Rangers in the end sequence were 1 or 2 man jobs much smaller than those used with Endurance. Now I need to rewatch the opening sequence though :D
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 16:16

I don't think a canon answer is likely, so I think some limited speculation is in order. If you look at aviation from sixty years ago, i.e., 1955, you're still dealing with the same basic strategies for dealing with the forces of thrust, drag, lift and weight:, throttle, ailerons, elevators, flaps and rudder. You can boil the last four down to a single concept of control surfaces, furthermore.

You'd have to ask a pilot from 1955 to be sure, but I suspect that the real differences that have come about are how you navigate and interact with traffic control, specifically, that they've become VASTLY simpler.

If you look at cars, the difference is even more striking - I think you could easily pull someone driving a Model A in the Twenties and get them up and running in a modern, automatic car (infirmity of age aside).

Lastly, as alexwlchan noted, they've got big fish to fry in this time...I imagine that not a heck of a lot happened until the equation data came back, so it's really probably like ten to fifteen years of intensive transformation.

  • Are you trying to say that a pilot from 1955 will also be able to fly a modern day craft anyhow? thrust, drag, lift and weight:, throttle, ailerons, elevators, flaps and rudder does not change because they are basic things in aviation. But the switches, buttons, handles, which I called controls changes day by day.
    – VacuuM
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:21
  • @VikramadityaMondal Was the craft in the movie modern in that sense? The USAF is still flying aircraft from the 1960s/70s today, so if they were just old craft, there's really nothing to explain anyway.
    – Geobits
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:01
  • Not to mention, wasn't he a pilot to begin with? I'm not saying all aircraft are alike, but some of it has to be similar enough no matter what machine you're flying.
    – PiousVenom
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:03
  • There's also the question of how much Coop has to do, and how much he can delegate to TARS. But even today, autopilot systems can take off and land entirely by themselves.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 20:16
  • Actually, I may have been mistaken. I don't think they can take off yet, but they can do everything else.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 20:23

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