It seems an oxymoron to describe a crew on a craft in deep space as ‘grounded’, but that’s exactly what the Nostromo personnel in Alien feel like: a group of every-person truckers in space, just doing a job and looking to get paid at the end of it. Except for Ash, there’s something wrong with that twitchy, on-the-spot jogging creep.
But what is their job? Why, hauling 20 million tonnes of ore from the planet Thedus to Earth. They pilot the USCSS Nostromo, a Weyland-Yutani Corp. starfreighter towing a massive ore refinery. While designer Ron Cobb would end up creating the look of the Nostromo, British designer Chris Foss took passes at the refinery it was hauling. Originally conceived as an industrial complex embedded in an asteroid, when director Ridley Scott examined Foss’s work, he declared it “too interesting”; moviegoers would spend too much time wondering what happened in the factory instead of the Nostromo! Scott would eventually instruct the film’s model makers to create something that would evoke a gothic castle sitting on the moors, to more give the structure a haunted house feeling.
The top part of the following image is Chris Foss’ concept art for the refinery, and below that the ore refinery as seen in the film.