How to Pilot a Starship

The Firefly-class transport vessel, Serenity, flies through space in 'The Message.' See more space exploration pictures.

Used starships are easy to come by. You may have found yours floating derelict in the void or crashed on an alien world. Occasionally, you'll even dig one up in your own backyard or win one in a high-spirited game of Sabacc. Now that it's yours, what's it gonna take to fare some space in that ill-gotten jalopy?

Sure, some starships are a piece of cake. The Firefly-class transport ship featured in Joss Whedon's "Firefly" requires nothing more than a spunky crew and liberal flipping of three magic switches. The Gunstar in "The Last Starfighter" flies like a 1984 arcade game, so even kids can enjoy the fun of intergalactic war.

Sadly, it's not always so easy. Sophisticated starships often come with equally sophisticated piloting and navigation technology. It makes sense. These fictional vessels achieve feats beyond the grasp of even near-future space technology. They soar faster than the speed of light, slip through alternate dimensions and provide Earth-like gravity without so much as an offhand explanation.

Chances are, the starship in your garage wasn't designed with human beings or even humanoid aliens in mind. Before you just jump in and start pressing buttons, let's try out a few favorite piloting systems from science fiction, as well as a few rarities that might turn up.