Zero-X is a space exploration craft built for conventional take-off and landing. It is featured in two of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Supermarionation productions; the Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbirds Are Go and in the first episode of the next Supermarionation series (The Mysterons, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons. It was the first manned craft to land on Mars, after the MSP project failed.
The first Zero-X was originally built for the Space and Solar Exploration Committee as a rival to the ill-fated Martian Space Probe. Two years later, the Mark II successfully reached Mars but was destroyed upon its return to Earth. Like its predecessors, the Zero-X Mark IV is built by the New World Aircraft Corporation and is based at Glenn Field Spaceport in the United States. It differs little from the previous versions except that the engines have been upgraded to use the same fuel as the Sun Probe—Toxerlene—and the Martian Excursion Vehicle has had a number of modifications to its internal layout, and carries extra armaments. As Zero-X lacks a faster-than-light hyperdrive, its range is limited to the solar system.
The metallic blue Zero-X spacecraft comprises a number of detachable sections which are stored in separate hangars near the take off site. They are a main body, a lander, two lifting bodies, and a heat shield. There are four engines on each side of the lifting bodies and eight on the main body.
The main body houses the chemical engines which provide the craft with the thrust required for lift-off and the subsequent journey to Mars.
The Martian Exploration Vehicle (MEV) is attached to the front of the main body where it serves as the spaceship's main control centre during space flight.
Two remotely controlled "lifting bodies" (self-propelled "flying wing" aerofoils) are attached to the main body at the front and rear of the craft, for assisting during atmospheric ingress and egress.
A heatproof nose cone with an aluminium exoskeleton protects the MEV during take-off and provides further aerodynamic flow to the vehicle in atmospheric ascent; it is jettisoned shortly before leaving Earth's atmosphere.
The lifting bodies act as wings to allow the craft to operate from a conventional runway, and carry multiple jet engines to reduce the amount of fuel needed for the main body's chemical engines. They separate from the main body when the craft is at a sufficiently high altitude and return to base; on re-entry, they rendezvous with the spacecraft and dock with it to again act as wings and provide propulsion in the atmosphere.
On reaching Mars, the MEV detaches from the main body, which is left in orbit piloted by a single astronaut, and descends towards the planet's surface. At the surface the MEV extends caterpillar tracks enabling it to negotiate most terrain.
Length: 1,190 feet.
Thunderbirds Are Go
The first manned mission to Mars ended in failure after the Zero-X spacecraft was accidentally sabotaged by the Hood, who had stowed aboard the craft to photograph its wing mechanisms. The crew managed to escape and two years later a second Zero-X craft successfully reached Mars in September 2065. However, soon after touching down on the surface, the MEV was attacked by Martian Rock Snakes. While the astronauts managed to escape, the lifting body control-systems on board the MEV sustained damage during the confrontation, causing the Zero-X to crash upon its return to Earth, landing in Craigsville, U.S., roughly 20 miles from its launch site, Glenn Field Spaceport, Nevada. The crew survived, having been saved at the last minute by International Rescue.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
A further Zero-X mission returned to Mars in 2068 sponsored by Spectrum in search of the source of alien signals detected from Earth. The crew's hostile actions lead to a "war of nerves" with the Mysterons.
Zero-X returned to Earth with Captain Black as its only occupant, he vanished after the craft reached Glenn Field Spaceport, and it wasn’t long after this that the people of Earth received their first threat from the Mysterons from Mars.
Thunderbirds Are Go
In both missions, the Zero-X was manned by three crew and two scientists:
- Captain Paul Travers: Overall mission captain
- Space Captain Greg Martin: Space flight captain
- Brad Newman: Space Navigator
- Dr. Tony Grant: Astrophysicist
- Dr. Ray Pierce: Astronomer
Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons
The 2068 mission only had three known crew:
- A model of the Zero-X was included in the Project SWORD line of toys marketed by Century 21 Productions.
- In Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, a reference is made to Zero-X's lifting bodies.
- A vehicle in Terrahawks was named after Zero-X called MEV (Martian Exploration Vehicle). The vehicle appeared in the Terrahawks episodes To Catch A Tiger, The Ultimate Menace and Space Cyclops.