The history of sci-fi spacecraft design can be broken cleanly into two categories: "Before 2001: A Space Odyssey" and "After 2001: A Space Odyssey." Before Stanley Kubrick's 1968 cinematic masterpiece, spacecraft -- even relatively complex ones like "Star Trek's" U.S.S. Enterprise -- tended to be more aesthetic than functional, and lacked significant surface features. That all changed with "2001." Not only were these spacecraft based on rigid scientific principles, but their surfaces virtually bristled with detail. Panel lines were distinct, panels were non-uniformly colored, and one could practically see every rivet holding the ships together. (This latter effect was achieved, in part, by detailing the filming miniatures with pieces "borrowed" from commercially available plastic model kits. 2001 was the first film for which this simple but effective technique was used.)
The first major spacecraft to appear in the film was the Orion III, aka the Pan Am Space Clipper. A commercial space plane whose lines would one day be echoed in the actual American Space Shuttle, the Orion III achieved orbit by means not revealed in the film, but presumably landed like a conventional aircraft. The vehicle had a limited seating area, suggesting that even in the "future" of the year of 2001, commercial space travel would be the province of only the very rich.