The Lives of the Real Ships Icarus

HMS Icarus

Image courtesy

One comment I’ve received as I revise my latest novel, Icarus Down is, “why on Earth would people name a spaceship after the flight of Icarus? Aren’t they inviting the destruction that befell him?”

I have to admit that calling a spaceship “the Icarus” and having it crash after appearing too close to a sun is a little heavy-handed in the irony department. Mind you, if you think the fate of the UNS Icarus was bad, wait until you hear about the stories of its sister ships, the UNS Titanic and the UNS Let’s All Go Explore the Bermuda Triangle.

Seriously, I’ve come this far, and I’m not changing the name of the ship. And it’s interesting to see how often the name “Icarus” has appeared on other ships, both real and fictional. In fact, the British Royal Navy had four ships named after Icarus.

  • HMS Icarus (1814), a 10-gun brig-sloop launched in 1814, on coast guard duty in 1839, and sold 1861.
  • HMS Icarus (1858), a screw sloop in service from 1858 to 1875.
  • HMS Icarus (1885), a Mariner-class composite screw sloop in service from 1885 to 1904.
  • HMS Icarus (D03), an I-class destroyer laid down by John Brown and Company, Limited, at Clydebank in Scotland on 9 March 1936, launched on 26 November 1936.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The fourth Icarus actually served throughout the Second World War, and sank four German U-Boats. It was decommissioned in 1946 and towed to a scrap yard in Scotland for tearing down. You can learn more about the ship’s history here.

Other uses of the name include:

  • The IKAROS - a unmanned Japanese spacecraft designed to test the concept of a solar sail (link)
  • The name of a design of articulated bus built by Orion (formerly Ontario Bus Industries), and which served in Ottawa and Toronto, among other places. They did have mechanical issues which soured the TTC on articulated buses ever since.
  • The fan-designated, non-canon name for the spaceship that brought Charlton Heston to The Planet of the Apes (link)
  • A theoretical design for a nuclear-fission-powered interstellar spaceship. [link).
  • Two ships sent from the Earth to the Sun in the 2007 Danny Boyle movie Sunshine (link).
  • The name of an explorer ship on Babylon 5 that went to Za’ha’dum, the home of the Shadows, and woke them up.
  • The name of a Greek airline that has since been acquired by Olympic Airlines.

So, I figure it’s not beyond the stretch of the imagination to believe that some ships can be named after tragic antecedents. And perhaps it’s the case that naming conventions change and fall in and out of fashion. After all, Franklin entered the Northwest Passage with the ships “Erebus” and “Terror”, while the pirate Henry Every captained the “Fancy”.

On the other hand, it has been listed as a Television Trope

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