How to Survive an Alien Monster Attack

Source: Alien Covenant, 2017

In space, no one can hear you scream, but you can use that to your advantage when a hostile creature boards your ship.

Imagine that you’re on a ship traveling through a dark corner of space, when suddenly the normal groans and creaks of the ship seem exaggerated. The lights dim before going out. The air somehow feels heavier despite the regulated pressure, and you swear that the mood is now ominous. Whoops! You’re now in a sci-fi horror scenario.

If you see bite and claw marks on some corpses, there’s a good chance that a hostile alien is on board. But don’t panic! With some quick thinking and ingenuity, you can escape the situation alive.

Monster on Board

Dead Martian invader. Source: War of the Worlds, 2005
Dead Martian invader. Source: War of the Worlds, 2005

A spaceship is a near perfect environment for a creature feature. Inside the ship, a ravenous alien hunts you and your crew. Outside is certain death in the cold vacuum of space. Plus, not only are the escape pods placed in the most inconvenient locations, they’re also not stocked for immediate use. Things don’t look good.

Fortunately, the odds of survival are on your side. The chances of a creature from another world, with a completely different biology, being able to eat and digest human flesh are fantastically improbable. Your microbes alone might kill it like in War of the Worlds. The alien probably wouldn’t even be able to breathe your air. Then again, that’s assuming that an oxygen/nitrogen rich Earth-like environment isn’t a prerequisite for advanced life in the universe.

On top of that, professional space crews go through months of strenuous training under intense conditions and often have multiple PhDs in various disciplines. If you’re part of the highly skilled crew, then you can work as a cohesive unit and take on virtually any kind of emergency. For example, the crew of the Apollo 13 was nearly stranded in space when an oxygen tank explosion crippled its service module. But their ingenuity, determination, and coordination with Mission Control helped them pull through.

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However, with the potential rise of commercial space flights, there comes an increased likelihood there will be more tourists and prospectors in space than professional astronauts. So, if you’re not a highly trained soldier, engineer, Jedi, or xenobiology specialist, then your odds of survival go down significantly, but it won’t be impossible to escape the alien’s clutches.

Be Smart and Don’t Lose Your Head

The first rule of survival is to keep your cool and think. You need to stay objective and take emotions out of the situation in order to survive. That means listening to the sole survivor from the previous attack for information about the monster’s weaknesses, assessing your resources, and deciding whether it’s in your best interest to keep a creature on board because the company thinks your whole crew (including you) is expendable.

Examining an alien
Examining an alien "Engineer" head. Source: Prometheus, 2012

Most of all, don’t bring any foreign specimens on board your hermetically sealed ship. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cute tribble or a slimy creature attached to your spouse, sibling, or best friend’s face. Also, you may need to make sacrifices for the sake of the crew. Yes, that means not going back to rescue the cat.

All examinations of alien lifeforms need to take place on the planet surface or on the landing ship. If you need additional equipment, have it transferred. Exposed patients need to go into quarantine. If you don’t have remote treatment capabilities or a trained medical specialist to deal with emergencies, then you really don’t have any business poking through alien ruins to begin with. So, that’s on you.

Ship Size Matters

Even if you follow the rules, there’s a chance that a hostile alien will sneak aboard your ship. While it’s busy chomping crewmates, you’ll have to think fast. Take in your surroundings because the kind of vessel you’re on will determine what you have to fight with.

Commercial towing vessel USCSS Nostromo. Source: Alien,
Commercial towing vessel USCSS Nostromo. Source: Alien,1979

If you’re on a relatively small shuttle like the Discovery or Endeavor, then your options are fairly limited. Kudos for living longer than a few seconds, though. The good news is that the alien can't be much bigger than a human or else it'll have trouble squeezing through narrow crawlspaces, and there will be relatively few places for it to hide. The bad news is that space shuttles are designed similarly to boats, where quarters are tight and there’s a direct path from one end of the ship to the other. One plan is to somehow lure the creature into the cargo bay area, trap it there, then open the shuttle doors. Ideally, you’ll want to get everyone into the flight deck, lock it tight, and vent all the air from the rest of the ship.

If you’re on a larger, more advanced sci-fi ship, then you probably have more options. But then, so does the creature, which will learn the layout of your air ducts, service tunnels, and water recycling systems.

Depending on the kind of ship you have, you can’t always rely on its monitoring cameras or internal sensors to detect the beast – even if it is a seven-foot-tall monster with an elongated head and a sharp pointy tail like the xenomorph in Alien. So, you may need to personally drive the creature to a non-critical part of the ship before shutting the airlock doors to trap it. If you have a humanlike android aboard, use it as bait!

Killer xenomorph getting blown out an airlock. Source: Alien, 1979
Killer xenomorph getting blown out an airlock. Source: Alien, 1979

It’s possible that you’ll have some sort of makeshift weapons aboard, especially if you’re a mining vessel. If you have an off-world mining shuttle that you can pilot, then you’re in superb shape. Turn off the main ship’s life support, start venting the air, toss a space suit into the shuttle, and hop inside as quickly as you can. Then fly outside and wait it out. If you’re not especially fond of your main ship, you can skip straight to getting into the shuttle and then drill a hole into the ship’s hull. If the monster doesn’t die from asphyxiation or freezing, then it’ll likely croak when pressurization forces that large body through the small hole.

A colony ship should also have plenty of tools that can be turned into weapons. For example, a nail gun can be extremely useful in zero or low gravity since it will have incredible range. But if you’re a tourist on a leisurely space cruise with no survival skills, then I hope you enjoyed the ride because you’re probably next on the alien’s menu.

Fighting with Fire

Remember that on a spaceship, there are a million things that can go wrong and endanger the occupants. As a trained crew member, you should know your ship inside and out. If not, then you’re probably going to become lunchmeat.

Ripley testing flamethrower. Source: Alien, 1979
Ripley testing flamethrower. Source: Alien, 1979

Of the long list of catastrophic events, fire tops the list. Fire is one of the worst possible things to happen aboard a space vessel. It can suffocate and kill the crew members and/or cause the fuel tanks to explode. You’d need to disable the ship’s cooling and safety features to make it work, but a little fire can go a long way. Although space missions prohibit astronauts from bringing lighters and matches aboard, commercial vessels may have lax safety rules. If you have no other options, then electrical fires may do in a pinch.

Heat is extremely difficult to get rid of in space. Even if the fire doesn’t eat up all of the alien’s oxygen, it could end up cooking it. But unless you made a bee-line for that escape pod, that also means that the heat could cook you too. In extreme cases, it could melt the ship’s hull.

If you’re lucky enough to be on a sci-fi vessel with artificial gravity, then you have an obvious solution to your problem. Get to a designated safe area and crank the gravity for the rest of the ship to 11. If the ship generates gravity using a spinning ring to create centrifugal force, then hide out in the center axle and let the ring spin as fast as it will go until the bug is crushed. But if all you have is the force of your engines, then squashing the alien will mean crushing you too.

In that case, return to plan A by getting to an escape capsule or the command bay and venting the rest of the ship as quickly as possible.

To Be Continued…

A former Johnson Space Center director, Gerry Griffin, debunked the mythical cyanide pill astronauts were supposedly given by stating that space provides plenty of opportunity for death. A bit morbid, but true. The vacuum of space, which comprises most of the universe, is your greatest weapon. It doesn’t take a lot to turn your ship into a death trap. The trick is not falling victim yourself.

Life always finds a way. Source: Life, 2017
Life always finds a way. Source: Life, 2017

Then again, sometimes you can do everything right and still lose. There’s the possibility of meeting a creature similar to the one featured in the 2017 film, Life. That monster is so absurdly adaptable that it’s practically immune to death. In that case, make your peace, set a course for the nearest sun, vent your air until you pass out, and hope that you come back in a better movie.


Steven is a pop culture junkie who regularly binges on sci-fi TV shows, movies, books, and video games before completely overthinking them.