What is the M590?
As depicted in the show, the M590 exo-assault rifle is the primary rifle of the US Marine Corps and the US Army for use in all exo-planetary environments and conditions that the US Armed Forces find themselves during off-world combat and peacekeeping operations. This magazine-fed, air-cooled kinetic energy weapon fires a cased 5mm to 7mm projectile of various ammunition types depending on the conditions and enemy target types. Designed by AeroTech Corporation, the M590 has been the official standard assault rifle for off-world operations with the increased off-planet colonization expansion after the A.I. Rebellion.
Due to the design specification by the Defense Department for soldiers and marines needing to use their M590s will in combat environmental suit that feature padded gloves, the trigger is rather unique and not similar to any combat rifle before. The "trigger bar" is often depressed by four fingers instead of the traditional single due to the gloves worn with the rifle stabilized by the thumb loop grip and the forward grip. Given issues with safety and the bulkiness of the current issue gloves, the trigger was set with more force to fire the weapon. In some models, the forward assembly grip has been replaced by a single shot, slide-opening 40mm grenade launcher for increased offensive capability.
At the beginning of the Chig War in 2063, the M590s were issued with a flush box magazine containing 10 rounds. This was believed effective due to the nature of infantry combat in off-world conditions where one round could inflict critical damaged to the environmental combat suit, causing death via lack of ability to maintain the suit's integrity. However, it was proven that the small magazine was not effective against the armored alien infantry units causing the issuing of 30 round magazine in early 2064. With the use of environmental helmets, the traditional scope and sight systems was abandoned for a larger flip-up HUD display that could be easily seen by the user even when wearing a helmet.
The M590: By the Numbers (based on the art by Georg Joergens)
Overall Length: 33.82 inches
Width: 1.77 inches
Weight (unloaded): 9.26 lbs
Height w/ IR Scanner: 12.72
Action: semi-automatic, gas-operated rotating bolt. reinforce for exo-environments
Caliber (according to Georg Joergens): 5.56x45mm/7.62x51mm
Range: 200-400 meters
The Special Trigger: Variable pressure adjustable (up to 1.7 lbs) designed for the exo-environment ranked standard issue gloves.
The Fictional History of the M590
This created the need for a specialized rifle for use in all exo-environments that infantry units would be operate within. With so much of the modernization of the spacefaring military being handled by AeroTech, they provide a prototype of what is now the M590 exo-assault rifle in 2059. After trials on Mars, Luna, and several asteroids in the Kuiper Belt, the M590 was adopted as the standard exo-environmental assault rifle of the US Marine Corps, the US Navy, US AeroForce, and the US Army. While the weapon had been used in some wargames on Demois and Groombridge Lanstrom, its first combat usage is against some Silicate pirates at the ore mines of Blackheart's Rock in the Luyten 726-8 system.
What Do Those M590s Fire?
round that is one of the best military bullets ever developed. Added to this confusion, we rarely see the M590s eject cartridges and some sites have stated that the M590 is an caseless assault rifle, Again, there is no official information and we just have to guess or imagine what these kinetic energy weapons fire. It could be as simple as good old NATO 7.62mm or even 5.56mm or maybe some sort of exotic cartridge developed during the AI Rebellion.
What Does the M590 Say about the USMC of 2063?
Weapons of war speak volumes about the cultures that created them and we can learn about the civilizations that forged them for combat by their warriors. So, what does the M590 exo-assault rifle say about the US Marines of 2063/2064 during the Chig War? When the Chigs made their presence widely known to the governments and peoples of Earth was during their wiping out of the Vesta and Tellus colonies some 10.5 Lightyears from the Sol System (the evil AeroTech company knew about the Chigs before 2063 along with the exiled Silicates). At the time of the Vesta and Tellus massacres, the nations of Earth were at relative peace and were still rebuilding from the AI Rebellion.
Being the first weapon designed for such an operational environment, it has flaws that would be worked out for future variants and even new small arms based on the experiences of using the M590. During the Chig War, the forces of Earth using the M590, mostly the armed forces of the United States of America, saw improves to the weapon because of hard earned experience. This can be noticed with the inclusion of large magazines issued to Fleet Marine units on the frontlines. The M590 also tells us that AeroTech and the US military envisioned the M590 being used in mostly hostile alien environments due to the trigger assembly being developed for us by soldiers, marines, and sailors using padded gloves rated for hostile off-world alien environments.
Under the Plastic: The Mini-14 and the M590
According to one source involved with the US production, the production designer in Australia was Bernard Hides and he did not know if Mr. Hides was involved in the designing of the M590. He did tell me that the reason for the massive trigger that was guard-less, was due to the heavy gloves worn by the actors. After getting in touch with Ian Scheibel, the propmaster for SAAB, he provided me with the source of the creators of the M590: Independent Studio Services (ISS), based in Sunland, California. When I asked about the design, he said this: I believe I took some ideas from the producers, had ISS make some prelim designs that we made changes to, etc. Hate to be so vague but it was the usual design process... everyone wants to do something "new" and put their thumbprint on it and I want to keep it simple so that it's practical... doesn't weigh a ton and is an easy weapon to throw into a mold to make non-working replicas and rubber doubles.
we used five-round magazines (maybe 10-round, too) unless higher capacity was needed for a scene with gunfire. So, in other words, the "default look" was maybe pretending that it didn't even have a magazine or that the magazine was flush with the bottom of the housing... that way we did not need to start designing new elements for the magazines. For example, on Space Rangers (see pic below) we couldn't leave well enough alone and added that element on the end of the mag to make it less-recognizable.
We did the same thing for the sidearm on SAAB... added an extra piece so that it did not look as much like a current day Glock magazine. I'm wondering if we actually switched to larger mags or if you were just seeing it in a scene where we needed actual gunfire. If that was the case, we probably would not go into a scene with only a five- or ten-round mag unless there were only 1 to 5 shots being fired. (If we switched to higher capacity mags just for actual firing, we might have just cheated them in, thinking that in all the excitement, who's gonna keep track?) I'm remembering now, too... The new housing we created made things a little tight. Because you have to kind of angle in the magazine (kind of engage it then rock it forward) the housing was really making that difficult. To answer your question, we had real weapons (blank-firing), replica weapons (poured resin/plastic) and rubber weapons.
All of them had the little, light-up, fold down screens. The replicas all had working, light-up screens. We would not have a real (blank-firing weapon) in a shot unless there was actually gunfire called for (or if a character wanted to "rack a round" as the replicas did not have a functioning charger handle/slide... and actors like to do that). On the other hand... we never counted on Post or roto or CG for gunfire... they may have added it at times but if there was gunfire in a scene, we were firing live blanks. And the alien planets were super dirty... whatever they were using for soil on other planets really did not work well with oiled guns. So, where are the prop M590s now? Given the amount of stunt and replica copies made for the production, these are the one that have that fans have been able to buy over the years. I assume that the few blank-firing M590s were return to ISS and possibly broken down and sold without the Mini-14 and/or AC556 internals.
One of the more noticeable features of the M590 was the massive flip-up HUD LCD screen and "scope" mounted on the forward assembly of the rifle. From this, we can guess that it seems that the way the M590 was to be operated was via the aiming HUD screen and not iron-sights or other more conventional aiming techniques. This could be due to the Marines being in hostile environmental suits and the helmets preventing the conventional shoulder-aiming ergonomics. This would be similar to my experiences using a paintball gun modeled after the Colt CAR-15 Commando and wearing a paintball mask. In the series, it was only used a few times in the early episodes and appears to be a targeting sensor and tracking system that relays data from the sensor tube located on the front of the weapon.
Only one of them had an actual back lit LCD screen for targeting. The others just had a slide that could be placed in there with a light in the back to illuminate it. Then there were others that had no electronics at all. This confirms two things. One, that the HUD LCD screen was indeed designed for targeting and two, that there was only one "hero" rigged up to illuminate the targeting screen as seen above. I like this was only seen on-screen during the pilot episode when Nathan is tracking the Chig recon vehicle pilot on Mars. Some sources online have claimed that this flip-up screen is used for a grenade launcher that we never see.
The Impact and Legacy of the M590
When FOX was promoting their upcoming military science fiction show, Space: Above and Beyond, the promotional teasers mostly focused on the aspect of space fighter combat with the Chigs. Some planet-side battles were shown during the expedition to Mars. This was the central concept that the network felt could sell the show and hook audiences. At the time, fans of sci-fi and military SF were excited by the show and much attention was paid to the SA-43 “Hammerhead” Endo/Exo attack jets of the USMC in 2063. However, the expensive in SFX of showing space dogfights with the Chigs forced the show to steer the show’s storylines and battlescenes to more infantry combat with the Chigs and Silicates…which might more screentime for the M590. Even the show made a reference and joke to this when fans became flooding the online message boards for SAAB with requests for more sweet space dodgefights. In one episode, Colonel McQueen states that he has been getting earfill of pilots bitching about being deployed as groundpounders and he says they are Marines first and they will fight “when needed, how needed!”.
This put the M590 more in the spotlight, but despite this, the M590 never gained much traction among the SAAB community along with sci-fi fans. Some fans at the time that SAAB was airing (like me) and later fans, were interested in the M590 and its design. Me, being me, I thought about the M590 and how it was used by the US Marines and US Army personnel in the series while the show was running. Due to the cancellation of the show in 1996, the state of the internet, and the lack of mercdice produced for the show (even now) as lead to the M590 exo-assault rifle being one of the most forgotten and ignored KE rifles of a military sci-fi work of all time.
Overall, the M590 is known about to fans of the show and some within the cosplay and collecting circles of SAAB fandom, but its impact is light and its legacy is nearly nonexistent. Adding to this fact is that there is very little written on the weapon and most SAAB fans are more interested in the SA-43, the Chigs, and Lt. Vansen (meow!). For me, I was always intrigued by the M590, its design, and its history, and that propelled me to finally give the M590 an article here on FWS. For us fans of the show, we would notice on impact and legacy of the M590 after the end of the show, the M590 being used as a prop weapon for some video games and by other FOX sci-fi TV shows like Sliders and The X-Files.
Why does the M590 have so little in the why of Impact and/or Legacy?
Some sci-fi weapons are icons and known/worshiped by fans and wider culture alike. This includes the Mortia Rifle, the Lightsaber, the PK-D of the LAPD Rep-Det unit, and the Phaser. That does not apply to the Space: Above and Beyond standard issue exo assault rifle of the US Marine Corps and US Army off-world forces. The reason for this is mainly that SAAB was cancelled by FOX after just one season (you bastards!) and it came at a time when internet geek culture was just becoming established, but limited to the expense of being online and the hardware associated with dialing into the matrix. SAAB never had the online fandom that Firefly had or has, for example. In addition, while the rifle is named in the pilot two-hour episode, nearly nothing was ever discussed about the weapon’s technical data or even what it fired, unlike the USCM pulse rifles of ALIENS.
Then there was the overall design that was unique, but it lacked the starpower that makes some sci-fi weapons icons, which is a subjective value, but it holds true. There is very little in the way of fan reproductions of the weapon or an active SAAB cosplay community to support the creation of M590s beyond the level that exist today. While I liked elements of the M590 exo-assault rifle, it is not as well thought out or design to the degree of the somewhat similar M41a1 Pulse Rifle or the MA5B. It is highly likely that if SAAB had been allowed to live and run for a few seasons more, the M590 would have gained traction in the fan community along with alternated by the production staff or even replaced by something else as we witnessed with the Colonial small arms of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. Overall, the M590 was condiment to being just beyond the surface of iconic military science fiction weapons due to it being a single season show that aired in the mid-1990’s and that was also an odd design to boot.
Where Else Have We Seen the M590?
As the "M190" in the TOPPS 1996 SAAB Comicbook Series
From January to July of 1996, TOPPS would publish a Space: Above and Beyond tie-in comicbook series. The first three issues were a bad comic retelling of the 2-hour pilot and then what followed was a two issues storyline that were an original plot called "The Gauntlet". From my research, this was not based on any lost scripts or possible storyline not undertaken. Overall, these comics are terrible and I have read them...so, feel some pity for me. At one time, I was thinking of an FWS article on them, but they are complete shit and it would be a waste of time discussing them due to their lack of polish and lack of attention to detail when it comes to the world of SAAB. In the series, the artist and writers at TOPPS called the rifle an "M190" in issue number #2 that covered the 58th mission to Mars, where we learn of the rifle's name. It looks barely like the M590 we know in the TV series, but it was closer than the oddball rifle we witness in the two-issue "The Gauntlet" story. There, the rifle looks more like an M16 with all manner of sci-fi looking attachments. After the two issues of "The Gauntet", TOPPS cancelled their comicbook venture into the Chig War due to the cancellation of the TV series.
In the Hands of Mulder and Scully in The X-Files "First Person Shooter (7x13)"
As the GDI/NOD "M16 Mk. II Pulse Rifle" from Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
In the 2007, the 3rd Command & Conquer game was titled "Tiberium Wars". and depicts the further conflicts over the Tiberium crystals between NOD and GDI. In the hands of some of the infantry is the very familiar profile of an M590 with the flush magazine and even the barrel. This is called the M16 Mk. II Pulse Rifle that fired a .22 KE projectile and the one that looks like the M590 is the variant one. I have no solid answer why the M590 appears in a 2007 video game or how.
In the Hands of a Duke Nukem Impersonator from 2001 E3
One of the most tortorius video game developments of all time was the epic struggle to release Duke Nukem Forever. While the game was originally slated for 1998/1999 release, it was delayed. To sooth the fans and inverters, some 19 years ago, 3D Realms reveal one of the many trailers for the upcoming Duke Nukem Forever at E3 2001. Like many companies then and now, they hired models and actors to cosplay/impersonate Duke with beautiful babes, called the "Duke Girls".
In the Hands of Cyborgs from alternate Earth in Sliders "Rules of the Game (3x01)"
Sliders was not a show that I watched with much frequency due to being in college, working, and being heavily involved in Jeet Kune Do. I was surprised when Yoel reached out to me and inform me that the M590 appears in the 3rd season opener called "Rules of the Game" that aired on FOX on September 20th, 1996. On alternate Earth, there is a game of survival where cash is awarded for living through the playing field. The team crashes into the playing field and battles for their lives against biker gangs and armed androids...sounds like The Running Man. Within the hands of these androids is the M590 painted in black and this episode was filmed just shortly after the cancellation of Space: Above and Beyond. It makes sense that the Sliders production raided the prop-house for futuristic weaponry that did not add to the cost of production.
The HALO UNSC Marine MA5B Rifle?
Next Time on FWS...
Some 18 years. Blizzard Entertainment announced that a unique take on their beloved StarCraft universe would come to the 6th generation of home video game consoles in the form of GHOST. However, it never came to be and GHOST is regarded by the gaming community as one of the great broken promises of modern video games. In the next installment of Broken Promises, FWS will be taking a look at StarCraft GHOST.