The Derelict is the name given to the abandoned alien spacecraft discovered by the crew of the deep space tug Nostromo in the 1979 science fiction film Alien. The Derelict was built by a species that have become known as The Space Jockeys. It was investigated by the Nostromo crew in response to a mistaken SOS signal originating from its location, LV-426, a fictitious moon (frequently but erroneously referred to as a planet) in the Zeta II Reticuli system.
The Derelict is a large, asymmetrical, wishbone-shaped craft, with a thickened central section between the two horns, which bend upwards. It has three large openings near ground level between the two horns, leading into the ship's interior. It is through one of these openings that three of the Nostromo crew members (Captain Dallas, Navigator Lambert, and Executive Officer Kane) entered the ship. The interior of the Derelict resembled more a giant beast than a spacegoing vessel, with its skeletal walls, circular gangways and steep passages. (The Xenomorph nest in Aliens implied that the aliens had transformed the ship as they had the terraforming station).
The Derelict may be a type of bioship from an advanced and ancient race (the Space Jockeys). It is organic in appearance, and it shows signs of being partially fossilized; though it is still functional, since it is still sending out an automated radio transmission. The dead Pilot is also fused to the command chair on the ship's bridge equivalent.
One interesting aspect of the ship is that exactly what part of the ship seen by the Nostromo's crew goes completely unexplained. It would seem to be the bow, or front, because the Space Jockey is apparently the pilot but this is uncertain. The exterior of the ship looks almost like the stern (back-end) of a ship that has hit the ground and buried its nose in the dirt. Whichever theory one chooses to accept will also dictate which backstory the viewer will accept.
In an enormous cockpit room, on a turntable-like structure was a giant alien life form that appeared to have been dead for an extremely long time, since it was fossilized. It appeared to have grown out of its equally enormous chair. It was sitting at a giant telescopic object that pointed upward that is assumed to be the pilot's controls. It also had a huge hole in its chest with bones bent outward, as if something exploded from the inside.
Very little is known about this long dead organism inside the Derelict, which the Alien production team named Space Jockey. H.R. Giger, designer of the Derelict and the Space Jockey, originally named it simply "The Pilot". Lambert of the Nostromo brought up the question of what happened to the rest of the crew on the Derelict, since no remains of any other Space Jockeys were found on board.
Kane, the executive officer, found a large hole near the side of the Space Jockey's "turntable". The hole opened out into a pit, apparently burned through by acid. The crewman volunteered to go down and investigate.
Upon reaching the bottom he discovered that he was inside an enormous cave-like cargo space filled with thousands of "leathery objects like eggs," covered by a thin layer of blue mist that reacted when broken. Ridley Scott states during the Director's Commentary on the Alien Special Edition DVD that the eggs are the cargo of the Space Jockey's ship with the ship being a sort-of war ship designed to carry these biological weapons, or perhaps a science vessel carrying the eggs as cargo for scientific study.
This room was called "the egg chamber" for obvious reasons, and is the scene of the first contact with the Alien organism, when the facehugger bursts out from one of the eggs, penetrates Kane's helmet (offscreen), and attaches itself to his face.
The origin of the Derelict and its inhabitant, the Space Jockey, is not depicted and virtually nothing is ever said about either throughout the entire Alien series. The Atmosphere Processor explosion, which occurred near the central colony complex near the end of the second film, probably did not destroy the Derelict, as colonists had been on LV-426 for several years before its discovery; however, Alien: Resurrection states that the Derelict was destroyed in the explosion. In Aliens: Special Edition, the Jordan family are said to have headed out past 'the Illian Range', supposedly a mountain range, which may have protected the Derelict from the explosion. The Derelict was never seen again after Alien except for its brief appearance in the 1991 Special Edition of Aliens which depicted its discovery by the Jorden family, on the now colonized LV-426. Following this extended introduction, all but one of the colony members are killed by the alien species.
According to the computer game Aliens versus Predator, the derelict ship survived the explosion and the Company established a new colony, atmosphere processor, and research facility dedicated to studying the derelict ship and its contents. All were destroyed ten years later during a second alien infestation, when an unnamed Marine disabled the atmosphere processor's cooling systems, causing another explosion.
According to the book Giger's Alien, the eggs were originally meant to be housed in a completely separate architectural structure, shaped in the form of a massive pyramid. This would imply the previous existence of a native civilization, wiped out by their reverence for the creatures. This is possibly what the structure and ancient history scene of Alien vs. Predator was based on.
More than 100 prop eggs were created for the scene of Kane's exploration of the "cave" under The Derelict. One special hero-egg prop was created with a top that could peel open by hydraulics. The scene of Kane being attacked was filmed on September 10, 1978.
Ridley Scott wanted an early warning system around the Alien eggs that would signal the eggs to the approach of a possible host organism. This effect was achieved through the use of a blue scanning laser that was projected through smoke to highlight the apparent membrane covering the eggs. The laser used was loaned to Scott by the rock group The Who.
Ridley Scott has stated in respect to the production of Alien that he wanted to make "a slasher movie in space". The Derelict is intended as an updated version of "a dark, old, haunted house," as is the Nostromo.