When Ripley awakens from her long nightmare, she finds herself in a strange place. A Med-Tech nurse attends to her with “practiced cheeriness,” and Ripley gazes out the window to look upon “the curve of the Earth as seen from orbit, blue and serene.” The script notes that this “sprawling complex of modular habitats” in which Ripley finds herself is “collectively called Gateway Station.” This conglomeration of satellite units, each tethered to the other by steel beams, houses a hospital as well as apartments, and is where all the Earth-based scenes take place, including Ripley’s hearing with the Company and I.C.C., and is where she settles and works before Burke offers to reinstate her license.
Despite the wonderful view of the “turquoise Earth” from the station windows, the interior is somewhat drab. High Resolution Environmental Wall Screens play back images of Earth, the atrium is dotted with “some unenthusiastic potted trees”, and the corridors are described as being “sterile”, (Ripley’s apartment block has a little more personality – the corridor is described as being “dingy”, and we see in the movie that it’s a mess.)
“A film like Aliens is absolutely dependent on an an interesting, new, yet still believable environment,” said Cameron. “In this particular movie, there are several different environments [including] an everyday orbiting space station which is essentially like a city on Earth.”
In Cameron’s 1983 treatment, Gateway is instead called Earth Satellite Station Beta. The script notes that the station’s hospital is “technologically advanced even beyond Ripley’s time,” though it “still reeks of hospital oppressiveness.” Cameron eventually pared back on the idea of Ripley being technologically out of time in the final film; when he was queried on the lack of technological progress between Alien and Aliens, he explained that humanity had experienced long periods of technological stagnation before, and that perhaps the era in which the films take place is a future dystopic Dark Age. The 1983 treatment’s advanced atrium deck, replete with a landscape and a view of the station’s launchpads, is replaced in the 1985 script with the (comparatively) low-fi High Resolution Wall Screen.
Syd Mead made some initial drawings for Gateway, but the station as we see it was designed by Peter Lamont. The facility was a combination of matte painting (the left side, painted by Peter Melrose) and a model (the right side), which allegedly used the base and towers of the original Nostromo.
“I don’t recognise this place”: so says Ripley in the film, but in the first draft of the script (written in 1985 – not the 1983 treatment) she mentions it by name almost immediately, which tells the viewer that Gateway is an older structure. Between this first draft and the shooting script, Cameron changed his mind and had the satellite appear sometime after the loss of the Nostromo, leading to Ripley’s confusion. Perhaps this was done to make Ripley feel perturbed and alienated, and to easily convey the idea to the audience that the Alien-verse Earth had changed in Ripley’s absence, as well as their own.
Two small ships patrol Gateway. Often glanced over, they are onscreen for a mere moment, their details indiscernible in the murk of outer space. One of the mysterious craft, pictured below, is called the Gateway Maintenance Shuttle on the laserdisc set (some assume it’s a security patrol ship… and they may be right, considering it’s armed.) The design for the Maintenance Shuttle has been attributed to Robert Skotak, and it was built by modelmaker Faisal Karim.
For the second, harder-to-spot ship (if you can spot it) model worker Steven Begg alluded to it being an unused ship from a Gerry Anderson show, Terrahawks. When asked about the design of a radio-telescope featured in the aforementioned show, Begg answered: “That was designed by Ian Scoones, who was a really nice guy, but just not into science-fiction action stuff. He also designed a lot of abstract shapes for Zelda’s fleet which Gerry rejected before we settled on the angular geometric type spaceships. One of which ended up as a background spaceship in Aliens!”
Considering that none of Aliens’ other ships (the Narcissus, Sulaco, dropship) can be described as a ‘background spaceship’, this leaves us to assume that Begg is referring to this second ‘Gateway Patrol’ vehicle, (another briefly seen ship belongs to the scavengers who find the Narcissus, and it cannot be described as an ‘angular geometric type’. Instead, it’s more akin to a space station, from what we see.)
Once Ripley leaves Gateway for LV-426, the station is not brought up again. It is mentioned several times in William Gibson’s Alien III script, but the characters of that film find themselves in a counterpart station called Anchorpoint.
Gateway’s Maintenance Ship eventually found itself within the Sci-fi Museum in Seattle (from where the modern day pictures of it originate), whilst the ‘Terrahawks’ shuttle was auctioned online and sold.