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On the topic of crew size, Matt Picio said that a modern wet-navy warship averages 15-20 crew members per kiloton of displacement.
However, a more accurate measurement takes into account "core crew", the minimum number of watch-standers to steer and fight the vessel. Core crew is about 80, and represents the minimum number of crew for a long-duration warship. Additional crew is fairly linear, at 1 crew per 100 tons of vessel. Automation will eventually halve these figures.
Ken Burnside says that for routine operations of a warship, you need a minimum of 10 people. Combat is, of course, far from routine. There are many complicated factors involved. For a back of the envelope calculation, figure roughly 10 to 16 crewmen per kiloton, though the lower end figure presupposes that most of the tonnage consists of armor and other things that do not require babysitting. If it sucks current, has moving parts, or works with a pressure or temperature differential, it needs babysitting.
For estimating the crew size of a long-duration military vessel, Sean Schauer has created a nice Excel spreadsheet (instructions are on last page). You'll have to decide how many shifts or "watches" there will be in a 24 hour period, generally from three to six. The spreadsheet was designed for a real-life wet navy vessel, so you may have to adapt it a bit. If you use this spreadsheet please give Mr. Knight credit for it.
Civilian ships average 10 to 25 crew members, depending on size (container ships and supertankers). Liners have about 0.8 to 1.2 crew for every passenger.
Adjust these figures to match your vision of spacecraft crews.
Figure on crew members being from 68 to 113 kilograms each (150-250 pounds). Although if the Solar Guard has any sense, there will be a maximum weight limit on rocketmen. One hopes that there will not be a chronic problem with bulimia in the Guard.
Keeping in mind that everybody knows the Polaris only needed Tom Corbett, Roger Manning, and Astro for crew. Tom was the captain/pilot, Roger was the astrogator/communications/radar man, and Astro was the propulsion system engineer. And on the StarDuster, you only had Scott McCloud (the Space Angel) as captain/pilot, the lovely Crystal as communications/radar/nav, and Taurus as the engineer/gunner.
The problem with that set up is When do they sleep? Obviously you need at least two crewmembers for each post that has to be constantly manned, or hope that the mission doesn't last longer than a day. Caffeine only goes so far.
In spacecraft as shown on movies and TV, they often use the "bomber crew" model. That is, a crew like a World War II bomber aircraft. This generally takes the form of a crew of half a dozen misfits each with some specialized talent needed for a successful finish to the mission.
And don't forget the crew in FORBIDDEN PLANET. As in many wet naval vessels, a lot of the enlisted men are going to be boys around 18 years old.
Once you have established the size of the crew, you can start allocating space for their quarters and supplies for food & life support.
Chain of Command
On spacecraft in general, and military spacecraft in particular, there will be a strict "chain of command." People with no management or military experience may not see the point behind a chain of command, but if such a person is suddenly given the task of managing a project (even a high-school bake sale) they will suddenly discover why it is vital. Attempting to run a spacecraft by a democracy or other laissez-faire system will probably result in the destruction of the spacecraft and the death of all the crew. Space is a far too deadly environment and spacecraft are far too full of dangerous equipment to leave things to chance.
We would be "temporary third lieutenants" - a rank as necessary as feet on a fish, wedged into the hairline between fleet sergeants and real officers. It is as low as you can get and still be called an "officer." If anybody ever saluted a third lieutenant, the light must have been bad.
"Your commission reads 'third lieutenant,' " he went on, "but your pay stays the same, you continue to be addressed as 'Mister,' the only change in uniform is a shoulder pip even smaller than cadet insignia. You continue under instruction since it has not yet been settled that you are fit to be officers." The Colonel smiled. "So why call you a 'third lieutenant'?"
I had wondered about that. Why this whoopty-do of "commissions" that weren't real commissions? Of course I knew the textbook answer.
"Mr. Byrd?" the Commandant said.
"Uh . . . to place us in the line of command, sir."
"Exactly!" Colonel glided to a T. O. on one wall. It was the usual pyramid, with chain of command defined all the way down. "Look at this - " He pointed to a box connected to his own by a horizontal line; it read: ASSISTANT TO COMMANDANT (Miss Kendrick).
"Gentlemen," he went on, "I would have trouble running this place without Miss Kendrick. Her head is a rapid-access file to everything that happens around here." He touched a control on his chair and spoke to the air. "Miss Kendrick, what mark did Cadet Byrd receive in military law last term?"
Her answer came back at once: "Ninety-three per cent, Commandant."
"Thank you." He continued, "You see? I sign anything if Miss Kendrick has initialed it. I would hate to have an investigating committee find out how often she signs my name and I don't even see it. Tell me, Mr. Byrd . . . if I drop dead, does Miss Kendrick carry on to keep things moving?"
"Why, uh - " Birdie looked puzzled. "I suppose, with routine matters, she would do what was necess - "
"She wouldn't do a blessed thing!" the Colonel thundered. "Until Colonel Chauncey told her what to do - his way. She is a very smart woman and understands what you apparently do not, namely, that she is not in the line of command and has no authority." He went on, " 'Line of command' isn't just a phrase; it's as real as a slap in the face. If I ordered you to combat as a cadet the most you could do would be to pass along somebody else's orders. If your platoon leader bought it and you then gave an order to a private - a good order, sensible and wise - you would be wrong and he would be just as wrong if he obeyed it. Because a cadet cannot be in the line of command. A cadet has no military existence, no rank, and is not a soldier. He is a student who will become a soldier - either an officer, or at his formal rank."
Two Marines from Alexandria’s fifty-man contingent flanked the main entrance hatch into the ballroom when the three officers arrived. The Marines snapped to attention and saluted. Drake returned their salutes, and then stepped over the raised coaming into the ballroom.
The large compartment had been configured as an auditorium, with rows of seats arrayed in front of a raised dias and podium. As Drake stepped over the threshold, there was a cry of "Ten-hut!" from one of the Marines. Scattered figures, all in uniform, jumped to their feet with ramrod straight spines and eyes facing front. An occasional civilian figure also stood, although in a much more relaxed manner. Most of the hundred-plus occupants of the compartment merely glanced up, and then went back to their individual discussions.
Drake strode down the aisle at the side of the compartment, mounted the dias, and moved to the podium. While waiting for the noise to subside, he let his gaze sweep across the compartment. ... Professor Planovich was also seated in the second row, three seats to the right of Aster. Drake recognized a dozen other members of the scientific staff, including several women. Standing toward the back of the crowd were the captains and executive officers of the cryogen tankers, as well as several scout and landing boat pilots from Discovery and City of Alexandria.
Drake ordered those standing to be seated. The military personnel sat down, and the buzz of conversation began to slowly subside. Drake waited until the crowd had grown silent before beginning to speak:
"Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. I asked Captain Fallan to call this meeting in order to get a few things straight before we leave orbit for the deep black. First of all, I would like all those who did not stand when I entered the compartment to please do so now."
There was a renewal of the crowd noises and no one moved for a second. Then, slowly, hesitantly, the powerful of Alta began to climb to their feet. First one, then two, then small groups, until finally, the scene was exactly reversed from that of a minute earlier.
"For the next several months, you will all be living and working aboard this ship. As I am sure you have noticed already, we are too many people crammed into too little space, and there is little opportunity for incompatible personalities to get away from each other. This is quite normal, and we spacers long ago developed a code of conduct to minimize the stresses of shipboard life. The code is based on three principles: respect for one’s fellows, common courtesy, and the fact that a ship in space is no democracy.
"One of the most basic principles of this code involves the respect given a commanding officer aboard ship. For many of the same reasons that one stands when a judge enters a courtroom, so too should you stand when a captain enters a compartment. The act is intended to show your respect for the position rather than for the man who fills it. Since each of you now standing has chosen to ignore this simple courtesy, you will pay for the oversight by reporting to Captain Fallan immediately after we leave orbit. He will assign you to forty hours of ship’s maintenance as a penalty.
There were several seconds of shocked silence, followed by an explosion of protests. Drake let the noise wash over him, making no move to stop it. Eventually, all was quiet again.
"I take it from your reaction that you think I’m being overly harsh," he said.
"Damned right!" someone yelled from the back row.
"You should be thankful to get off so easily. True, I could have ignored the unintentional insult you gave me. I could have explained why we have these quaint customs aboard ship, and asked you to humor us by complying with them. I could have, but I didn’t. In an emergency, your lives may well depend on your immediate, unquestioning obedience to my orders, or those of Captain Fallan. Since such obedience does not come naturally to anyone, I have chosen to educate you in a way that you will remember."
"What if we refuse to knuckle under?" one white haired man in the fifth row asked.
"Your name, sir?"
"Greg. Tobias Greg, Labor Council Chartered Representative."
"Well, Mr. Greg. My response to willful disobedience of orders depends on the stage of the mission we are in at the time. For instance, if you are refusing my order at this moment, I will have the Marines put you bodily onto one of the supply shuttles and have you returned to Alta. Should your refusal come after we’ve left orbit, however, I just may have you shot as am example to others."
Several Adam’s apples bobbed up and down as their owners swallowed hard, but no one spoke up. Drake continued: "Now, then, enough of this. Shall we get on with the real reason for this assembly? Commander Marston will read you the expedition orders."
Area of Responsibilities
In other SF, one will find Captains, Pilots, Owners-Aboard, Astrogators, Doctors/Medics, Engineers (propulsion engineers are sometimes called "Jetmen"), sensor officers/radarmen, Cargo-masters (also in charge with negotiating trades), communications-techs, turret-gunners, life-support techs, marines (space-ines?, Espatiers?), cooks (could be a rotating job), pursers, and sometimes a ship's cat (to catch those pesky alien rats). Maybe a science officer if you have one of those unvirile exploration ships.
In Andre Norton's Solar Queen novels, she mentions that the ship's cat is trained to present the carcasses of the vermin they kill to the captain. This allows the captain to be aware of what sort of alien rats and cockroaches infested the ship at last planet-fall. In his short story "Feathered Friend", Arthur C. Clarke remembers the history of mining, and suggests that a pet canary might be a cheap back-up for an atmosphere monitor. If the bird keels over, grab an oxygen mask and check the life support, pronto!
Space engineers may be faced with the daunting task of designing a microgravity cat litterbox that a cat will actually use. Since there do exist some modern-day cats that have been successfully toilet-trained, it is not impossible to imagine a cat trained to use one of those free-fall suction toilets such as are used on the Space Shuttle.
Of course if this is a tramp freighter, one person might have to do several jobs at once (wear several "hats"). Often the Captain, the Pilot, and the Astrogator are the same person. Or if things are really tight on the tramp, some of the jobs might be omitted (e.g., don't carry a doctor and hope nobody gets sick/injured and similar insanely dangerous decisions).
For purposes of comparison, here is a list of the crew complement of a World War II LST ship. Interesting jobs you will note are Shipfitter, Motor Machinist and Fireman. The LST has seven officers and 104 enlisted men.
If the spacecraft has a large enough crew, there will be a First Officer. Generally the Captain's job has to do with things external to the spacecraft (where the ship is going, what it does when it gets there, etc.) while the First Officer's job has to do with things internal to the ship (ensuring that the crew can and will do their jobs, keeping the ship supplied and in good repair, etc.) The first officer on a small ship is responsible for creating the "watchbill" for all crew members. This is a document specifying the watch rotation for the crew, it tells the crew who has to be where and when. On a larger ship, the department heads will be responsible for creating the watchbill for their department. There will be a different watchbill depending upon whether the ship is in space or on a planet. Crewmembers who are currently on watch are called "watchstanders."
The captain barely paused before giving her answer. Floyd had often admired Tanya Orlova's decisiveness, and had once told her so. In a rare flash of humour, she had replied: 'Woody, a commander can be wrong, but never uncertain.'
Pilots and helmsmen direct the spacecraft. Pilots might be rated according to the deltaV levels, ship classes, and trajectories that they are qualified to handle. Master Pilots are rated for any and all. The captain give the astrogator the destination. The astrogator plots the course, tells the pilot where to go, and notifies the pilot of navigational hazards. The doctors and medics heal the crew.
The bulk of the engineer's time is taken up by maintenance. Every single piece of equipment and installation has its own maintenance schedule, and it must be inspected, cleaned, serviced, or replaced as per schedule. Sometimes non-engineer crewmembers are assigned some maintenance tasks. A basic preventative maintenance task is simple cleaning. Not only does dirt cause malfunctions, but it also lowers morale.
"Captain Suvuk," Scotty said, sounding very distressed, "wi' all due respects, that's extraordinarily dangerous for two ships of the same model, let alone ones with different engine specs-- "
"-- which we now have," Suvuk said. "Granted, Mr. Scott, but we cannot leave Bloodwing behind, either. Do you wish to speak to your Captain?"
"Not now," Scotty said, "but I will later... Implementing, sir. Scott out."
Suvuk looked at [Captain Kirk] with calm approval. "Sir, have you ever noticed that while we run our ships, our engineers own them?..."
The other critical task of the engineers is damage control, although all crew members have some basic DC training. The focus is on fire-suppression, controlling decompression, and keeping the ship operational. The idea is to stabilize the damage as quick as possible until time allows more permanent repairs.
Belowdecks during a damage control operation the chain of command may shift. The Damage Control Officer (DCO, often but not always the chief engineer) has the authority to yank personnel from whatever department is needed in order to keep the ship operational. The DC officer creates damage control parties, each of which is responsible for a particular section of the spacecraft. The parties get their orders from Damage Control Central (DDC) which is a watch center generally in the hardest-to-damage section of the ship. The parties give progress reports to the DCO so the ship's status can be tracked. The parties utilize the damage control lockers in their assigned section. The crewperson in charge of each party generally is well trained in shipbuilding, firefighting, and team management.
Sensor officers are the spacecraft's eyes. Cargo-masters deal in cargo and trading. Quartermasters are in charge of ship's stores, and are generally stuck with all the odd jobs that don't fit in any other jurisdiction (e.g., laundry).
Communication techs are the ship's ears and mouth. They direct incoming messages to the proper departments and send outgoing messages in the proper format to the proper channels. Communication noise must be monitored and auxiliary channels used if required. All messages must be logged. Distress signals are sent to the watch officer, but never responded to without authorization. Responding binds the ship to render assistance, a decision reserved for the captain. The communication tech must also maintain the ship's transponder, which broadcasts the ship's ID. The tech may also be responsible for encrypted communications, using the proper keys to encrypt and decrypt, and destroying the code book if the ship is captured by a hostile power.
If the ship is privately owned, the owner might be along for the trip as the "owner-aboard". If the owner is not aboard, they will sometimes appoint a "ship's husband". This is a crewmember who represents the owner, and who manages its expenses and receipts.
There are also "unofficial" jobs onboard. These are colorful characters often found among the enlisted men. Preacher, Loan Shark, Moonshiner, Peddler (the man who always has something to sell, and who can get you anything you want), Bookmaker (place your bets, gentlemen...), Thief, Coward, and Gritch. The latter is the man everyone loves to hate, and the most important character in any small, closed social system.
On whussy exploration ships, in addition to a large number of specialist scientists drawn from various fields, it might be advisable to add a researcher who's job title is "Synthesist". This is a person who can correlate apparently unrelated facts from different areas of science. For example: a Synthesist might notice that a new statistical technique developed by life insurance adjustors to deal with populations of people could be used by astronomers doing surveys of populations of stars. Ordinarily the astronomers would never learn about this technique since they have no area of overlap with life insurance science, but the Synthesist could make that correlation.
There were Synthesists in John Brunner's STAND ON ZANZIBAR, Synthesists in James Hogan's Inherit The Stars, "Nexialists" in A. E. van Vogt's VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE, and members of the Mnemonic Service in Isaac Asimov's "Sucker Bait."
"Mnemonic Service," said Sheffield, patiently. "Emm-enneee- emm-oh-enn-eye-see Service. You don't pronounce the first emm. It's from a Greek word meaning memory."
The captain's eyes narrowed. "He remembers things?"
"Correct, captain. Look, in a way this is my fault. I should have briefed you on this. I would have, too, if the boy hadn't gotten so sick right after the take-off. It drove most other matters out of my mind. Besides, it didn't occur to me that he might be interested in the workings of the ship itself. Space knows why not. He should be interested in everything."
"He should, eh?" The captain looked at the timepiece on the wall. "Brief me now, eh? But no fancy words. Not many of any other kind, either. Time limited."
"It won't take long, I assure you. Now you're a space-going man, captain. How many inhabited worlds would you say there were in the Confederation?"
"Eighty thousand," said the captain, promptly.
"Eighty-three thousand two hundred," said Sheffield. "What do you suppose it takes to run a political organization that size?"
Again the captain did not hesitate. "Computers," he said.
"All right. There's Earth, where half the population works for the government and does nothing but compute and there are computing subcenters on every other world. And even so data gets lost. Every world knows something no other world knows-almost every man. Look at our little group. Vernadsky doesn't know any biology and I don't know enough chemistry to stay alive. There's not one of us can pilot the simplest spacecruiser, except for Fawkes. So we work together, each one supplying the knowledge the others lack.
"Only there's a catch. Not one of us knows exactly which of our own data is meaningful to the other under a given set of circumstances. We can't sit and spout everything we know. So we guess, and sometimes we don't guess right. Two facts, A and B, can go together beautifully sometimes. So Person A, who knows Fact A, says to Person B, who knows Fact B, 'Why didn't you tell me this ten years ago?' and Person B answers, 'I didn't think it was important,' or 'I thought everyone knew that.'"
The captain said, "That's what computers are for."
Sheffield said, "Computers are limited, captain. They have to be asked questions. What's more the questions have to be the kind that can be put into a limited number of symbols. What's more computers are very literal minded. They answer exactly what you ask and not what you have in mind. Sometimes it never occurs to anyone to ask just the right question or feed the computer just the right symbols, and when that happens the computer doesn't volunteer information.
"What we need . . . what all mankind needs . . . is a computer that is nonmechanical; a computer with imagination. There's one like that, captain." The psychologist tapped his temple. "In everyone, captain."
"Maybe," grunted the captain, "but I'll stick to the usual, eh? Kind you punch a button."
"Are you sure? Machines don't have hunches. Did you ever have a hunch?"
"Is this on the point?" The captain looked at the timepiece again.
Sheffield said, "Somewhere inside the human brain is a record of every datum that has impinged upon it. Very little of it is consciously remembered, but all of it is there, and a small association can bring an individual datum back without a person's knowing where it comes from. So you get a 'hunch' or a 'feeling.' Some people are better at it than others. And some can be trained. Some are almost perfect, like Mark Annuncio and a hundred like him. Some day, I hope, there'll be a billion like him, and we'll really have a Mnemonic Service.
"All their lives," Sheffield went on, "they do nothing but read, look, and listen. And train to do that better and more efficiently. It doesn't matter what data they collect. It doesn't have to have obvious sense or obvious significance. It doesn't matter if any man in the Service wants to spend a week going over the records of the space-polo teams of the Canopus Sector for the last century. Any datum may be useful some day. That's the fundamental axiom.
"Every once in a while, one of the Service may correlate across a gap no machine could possibly manage. The machine would fail because no one machine is likely to possess those two pieces of thoroughly unconnected information; or else, if the machine does have it, no man would be insane enough to ask the right question. One good correlation out of the Service can pay for all the money appropriated for it in ten years or more."
There was one talent Donald Hogan did possess which the majority of people didn't: the gift of making right guesses. Some mechanism at the back of his mind seemed ceaselessly to be shifting around factors from the surrounding world, hunting for patterns in them, and when such a pattern arose a silent bell would ring inside his skull.
Factors: Washington, the absence of the Dean, the offer of a salary competitive with what he could hope to earn in industry, but for studying, not for working ... There were people, extremely top people, whom specialists tended to refer to disparagingly as dilettanti but who dignified themselves with the title "synthesist", and who spent their entire working lives doing nothing but making cross-references from one enclosed corner of research to another. It seemed like too much to hope for, coming on top of his expectation, moments back, that his grant was to be discontinued. He had to put his hands together to stop them trembling.
"You're talking about synthesis, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm from the Dilettante Dept—or more officially, from the Office of Research Co-ordination. But I doubt if you have in mind exactly what I'm going to propose. I've seen the graphs of your scholastic career, and I get the impression that you could make yourself into a synthesist if you wanted to badly enough, with or without a doctorate." Dr. Foden leaned back in her chair.
"So the fact that you're still here—griping, but putting up with things—makes me suspect you don't want to badly enough. It'll take a good fat bribe to make you opt for it I think nonetheless you may be honest enough to stay bribed. Tell me, given the chance, what would you do to round out your education?"
Donald stammered over his answer, turning crimson at his own inability to utter crisp, decisive plans. "Well—uh—I guess ... History, particularly recent history; nobody's taught me about anything nearer to home than World War II without loading it full of biased dreck. All the fields which touch on my own, like crystallography and ecology. Not omitting human ecology. And to document that I'd like to delve into the written record of our species, which is now about eight thousand years deep. I ought to learn at least one non-Indo-European language. Then—"
"Stop. You've defined an area of knowledge greater than an individual can cover in a lifetime."
"Not true!" Donald was gathering confidence by the moment. "Of course you can't if you've been taught the way I have, on the basis of memorising facts, but what one ought to learn is how to extract patterns! You don't bother to memorise the literature—you learn to read and keep a shelf of books. You don't memorise log and sine tables; you buy a slide-rule or learn to punch a public computer!" A helpless gesture. "You don't have to know everything. You simply need to know where to find it when necessary.''
Dr. Foden was nodding. "You seem to have the right basic attitude," she acknowledged. "However, I must put on my Mephistopheles hat at this point and explain the conditions that attach to the offer I'm making. First, you'd be required to read and write fluent Yatakangi."
Donald blanched slightly. A friend of his had once started on that language and switched to Mandarin Chinese as an easier alternative. However ...
He shrugged. "I'd be willing to shoot for that," he said.
"And the rest of it I can't tell you until you've been to Washington with me."
Where a man called Colonel—Donald was not told if he had a name of his own—said, "Raise your right hand and repeat after me: 'I Donald Orville Hogan ... do solemnly declare and attest...'"
Donald sighed. Back then, it had seemed like the fulfilment of his wildest dreams. Five mornings a week doing nothing but read, under no compulsion to produce any kind of results—merely requested to mention by mail any association or connection he spotted which he had reason to believe might prove helpful to somebody: advise an astronomer that a market research organisation had a new statistical sampling technique, for instance, or suggest that an entomologist be informed about a new air-pollution problem. It sounded like paradise, especially since his employers not only did not care what he did with the rest of his time but suggested he make his experience as varied as possible to keep himself alert.
"Folks, we have got something! That's the sixth-order pattern, and thought is in that level! Those were thoughts - Shiro's thoughts."
"How did you work it out?" asked Crane. "You said, yourself, that it might well take lifetimes of research."
"It would, ordinarily. Partly a hunch, partly dumb luck, but mostly a combination of two brains that upon Norlamin would ordinarily never touch the same subject anywhere. Rovol, who knows everything there is to be known about rays, and Drasnik, probably the greatest authority upon the mind that ever lived, both gave me a good share of their knowledge; and the combination turned out to be hot stuff, particularly in connection with this fifth-order keyboard.
"Oh, wonderful-wonderful!" exclaimed Rovol in ecstasy, his transcendental imperturbability broken at last. "Think of it! Our knowledge extended one whole order farther in each direction, both into the small and into the large. Magnificent! And by one brain, and that of a youth. Extraordinary! And we may now traverse universal space in ordinary time, because that brain has harnessed the practically infinite power of cosmic radiation, a power which exhausted the store of uranium carried by Skylark Three in forty hours. Phenomenal! Stupendous!"
"But do not forget that the brain of that youth is a composite of many," said Fodan thoughtfully, "and that in it, among others, were yours and Drasnik's. Seaton himself ascribes to that peculiar combination his successful solution of the problem of the sixth order. You know, of course, that I am in no sense belittling the native power of that brain. I am merely suggesting that perhaps other noteworthy discoveries may be made by superimposing brains in other, but equally widely divergent, fields of thought."
The Mission Control Model
In a post to his always insightful blog Rocketpunk Manifesto, Rick Robinson points out how cruel reality has stolen the romance from space crews in general and astrogation in particular. In the classic Tom Corbett Space Cadet books, spacecraft had a pilot, an engineer, and an astrogator for crew. In Robert Heinlein's immortal novel Starman Jones, in the days before a ship reached the FTL jump point, the astrogators worked 24 hours a day, leafing through books of ten place logarithms until the pages fell out and working slide rules until they got hot enough to catch on fire. The only computers they had were hulking brutes that only accepted numeric input in binary via flipping toggle switches on the panel. Certainly nothing resembling a GUI interface with a mouse and keyboard.
But this seems so quaint now. On the high seas, it is considered passé to shoot the sun with a sextant and sweat over a chart with a pair of dividers. Instead you turn on your GPS unit and use your favorite navigation software on your laptop. Unless you are writing a hard-core rocketpunk SF novel, it will be odd to find a slide rule on a starship.
The same goes for most other jobs: much labor will be replaced by automation and computerization.
Of course I personally would be thrilled to have some sort of hand-waved FTL drive that has the side effect of forcing the use of slide rules. I keep trying to come up with one, but so far none my inventions has been free of unwanted side effects. It's hard to think of something that will kill a computer but not the crew.
Rick's solution is brilliant. He notes that current NASA space probes are not navigated by on-board computers. They are navigated by Mission Control. The idea is that the ship is not run by crew members doing things manually. The ship is run by system managers who oversee and command the computers who directly run the ship. This is not quite as nostalgic as the "bomber crew" model of spacecraft crews, but it is far better than a ship with a single button on the control panel labeled "Do Mission".
( note: if you want the precise details of every single control panel in Mission Control, you can find the details here)
Raymond McVay of Blue Max Studios took this idea and ran with it. In a series of blog posts here, here, and here he actually did some research on NASA's mission control with an eye to adapting it to spacecraft crews.
- Mission Commander (MCOM): This is the overall director of the entire operation, the big boss. If there are several spacecraft in a task force, there will only be one MCOM as task force commander, aboard the flagship. In other words, not all spacecraft will have an MCOM on board.
- Flight Commander (Flight): This is the director of the spacecraft in particular. They supervise all aspects of the ship's preparedness and abilty to perform the mission given by MCOM. This would be the ship's "captain".
- Integrated Communications Officer (INCO): This is the supervisor of all exterior and interior communications. They are the bridge between all the spacecraft's computer networks, the ship's personnel, MCOM and Flight. This is partially the equivalent of a Naval vessel's executive officer. INCO is also in charge of administrative details and discipline among the other departments.
- Flight Engineer (Chief): The supervisor in charge of all engineering systems. If this is a huge spacecraft or space station, this job might be split into several Flight Engineer positions: power, propulsion, maintenance, etc.
- COMMUNICATION AND ASTROGATION (COMAST) (subordinate to COMMAND)
- Guidance Procedures Officer (GPO or Guidance): They monitor the navigation of the spacecraft, ensuring that the guidance control software is operating properly, and keeping an eye out for hostile electronic warfare.
- Guidance, Navigation and Control Systems Engineer (SYS or System): They are responsible for teh guidance, navigation, and control system hardware. This includes flight computers, radar, lidar, flir sensors, attitude jets, and all the connections. They direct repair robots perform spot inspections.
- Spacecraft Communications (SCOM): The communicator between the spacecraft and other ships or stations.
- ENGINEERING (subordinate to COMMAND)
- Propulsion Engineer (Prop): Officer in charge of the entire conventional propulsion system, from propellant to exhaust nozzle. They also keep track of remaining delta V capacity.
- Drive Engineer (Drive): Responsible for hand-waving FTL star drive, heat radiators and maintenance on weapons systems.
- Electrical Engineer (EE): Responsible for power plant, power plant fuel supply, and electrical systems. They are also responsible for monitoring radiation if the power plant or propulsion system emits any.
- LIFE SUPPORT (subordinate to COMMAND)
- Environmental Consumables Manager (ECM): This officer ensures that there is enough food, water, heat, and breathing mix to keep the crew alive. Everything from food storage to air vents to water faucets to air scrubbers.
- Closed-Ecology Life-Support Systems (CELSS or "Cells"): Responsible for the hydroponics and algae tanks, if the ship is equipped with such.
- Flight Surgeon (Doc): Medical officer. They deal with disease, injury, ship cleanliness, and radiation.
- PAYLOAD (subordinate to COMMAND)
- Payload Officer (PLO/Payload): They are actually the weapon officer in charge of firing weapons at hostiles.
- Payload Deployment and Retrieval Officer (PDRO or "Padro"): In charge of loading and unloading cargo. Robots do all the work. Also in charge of ensuring that the cargo is stored in a balanced manner so the spacecraft does not fall off it's tail.
- Maintenance, Mechanical Arms, and Crew Systems Officer (MMACS): Officer oversees the maintenance of all the spacecraft's robots, robotic arms, and associated systems.
Naturally on smaller spacecraft some officers will be responsible for several positions (they will wear more than one "hat"), and some positions will have no human officers.
On larger spacecraft, Raymond thinks that they will have two full mission control teams on board for redundancy. This means six staffers per department instead of three, no officer will wear more than one hat, and all positions will be filled. Raymond figures that if the ship is in a non-combat situation, you'll only need one crew member per department on duty at any given time. This means the normal crew per watch is five. All staffers will be qualified to stand watch for their entire department under normal operations. With low ranking crew members, their main job will be deciding whether to wake up their superior to deal with any sudden situations.
With a full set of 16 filled staff positions, this will boil down to a watch bill with 6 four-hour shifts. Each member of the Command Department functions as Flight Director for their Watch, though only the two Flight Commanders are referred to as "Flight". The INCO is the de facto Executive/1st Officer of a spacecraft, and the Chief is the de facto 2nd Officer. The Watch bill is staggared as well, with Flight 1 directing the first Watch and Flight 2 directing the 4th.
Outside of their four-hour watch, each crew has four to eight hours of specialty work. This boils down to supervising teams of robots and performing spot inspections.
The most important part of a crew member's job — indeed, the entire reason for having an organic crew at all — is to spot potential problems before they happen. Space is an uncaring mistress, many problems are lethal and impossible to fix by the time they actually occur. The two Flights have the task of not only handling the details of their respective commands but also being on the planning staff of the MCOM, along with the Flight Commanders of any auxiliary craft and the commanders of the Espatier attachments.
The watchbill is different under non-normal high-priority combat conditions. Combat ships be designed with two separate Flight Control Rooms (FCR) spaced widely apart so that a lucky hostile laser strike does not wipe them both out with one bolt (in Star Trek the second room is called the Auxiliary Control Center). During combat both FCRs will be fulled crewed. The FCR crewed by Flight 1 (and MCOM 1 if present) will be the primary control room, Flight 2 and the deputy MCOM will be in the secondary control room. The secondary control will be on standby, ready to immediately assume control if the primary control room is quote "lost" unquote. "Lost" means anything from "the communication lines were cut" to "the room and everbody in it was just vaporized by a casaba howitzer."
During non-combat periods the two control rooms will conduct regular wargames against each other to keep the teams honed and in fighting trim. And of course the MCOMs and Flights will spring drills and suprise inspections on the rest of the crew to keep them on their toes.
Robert Davidoff said:
Something that occurs to me: this is all well and good for a combat ship operating as part of a fleet, but what about cruising stations and a proper watch bill? Flight here appears to have no backup, which means that there will be time when Flight is asleep. In Mission Control, this is not allowed: there are usually at least 3 Flight Directors who trade shifts, and in fact full teams of controllers to do the same at all critical stations. Perhaps with your settings level of computers, not every station is required full-time, with its specific monitoring subsumed into the section lead's duties tempororily or something, but the top of the structure needs a full watch bill, I think.
Three is best, enough for a standard watch bill, and suggests the CO, the XO, and a third officer, possibly selected from the wardroom at the CO's discretion subject to some standards — Flight needs some proficiency on every major area to know accurately what his/her controllers are recommending, and so that if he/she has to over-rule a controller's recommendations, it's an informed decision. Third Flight would be a good learning spot for potential XOs and COs — responsibility, but the decision in the most serious cases would be to wake the CO and XO for a consult.
Control on a Budget
As previously mentioned, things are different on a small spacecraft with limited crew. Please note that Raymond has added an external constraint. On the one hand he wants something logical and plausible. On the other hand he is using this to design a role playing game, where the average number of players is about five but occasionally an even lower number (down to one). This somewhat arbitrary limit is also useful for SF authors in order to keep the number of characters down to a manageable level. Of course in reality each additional crew member does add a sizeable mass-penalty with the body mass and the mass of the consumables they will require. So reality also has motivation to make the number of crew members as small as possible, in order to maximize the amount of mass devoted to payload. Emphasis on the "pay", as in "units of stuff that our clients will pay us money for delivering with our spacecraft."
Raymond examined the crew positions on NASA's Space Shuttle to get an idea of what was required. This is what he came up with:
- Flight Commander (FCOM): The Skipper, and maybe emergency pilot. Not to be confused with "Flight" on a spacecraft carrying smaller spacecraft.
- Guidance Procedures Officer (Guidance): Primary pilot. Monitors flight computers, does incidental manual maneuvering, and lands the spacecraft during ionization blackout. Also electronic warfare, if this is a military spacecraft.
- Flight Engineer (Booster/Chief/Drive): In charge of maintenance, electrical systems, propulsion, and power reactors. Supervises large teams of maintenance drones and robots.
- Payload Officer (PLO): In charge of cargo (including proper weight distribution) and weapon systems.
- Life-Support Officer (LSO): In charge of consumables, breathing mix, CELSS, toilets, et al. Also the Medic.
The small spacecraft watchbill will have 3 eight-hour Watches staffed by Guidance, PLO and Chief in rotation. Neither the FCOM nor the LSO stand watches; the FCOM is too busy being in charge and the LSO is not qualified.
In Andre Norton's THE SARGASSO OF SPACE, a small Free Trader class starship has twelve crew members. Control Deck: Captain-Pilot, Astrogator (badge: Chart) second in command, Apprentice astrogator, Com-Tech (badge: Lightning bolt) communications officer. Engine Deck: Chief Engineer (badge: Cog wheel), two Engineers, Apprentice Engineer. Cargo Deck: Cargo Master, Cargo apprentice, Medic, Cook-Stewart. And of course the ship's cat.
Normally a spacer of the Free Trader class would carry -- Charis reckoned what she did know about such ships -- normally a captain, cargomaster, assistant pilot-navigator, (com-tech,) engineer and his assistant, a jet man, a medico, a cook -- perhaps an assistant cargomaster. But that was a fully staffed ship, not a fringe tramp. She thought there had been four men on board beside Jagan...
They were too far from the spy post for their features to be distinguished, but while they wore uniforms of a similar cut to those at the post, Charis had never seen these before. The black and silver of Patrol, the green-brown of Survey, the gray and red of the Medical service, the blue of Administration, the plain green of the Rangers, the maroon of Education -- she could identify those at a glance. But these were a light yellow.
In the game GURPS: Traveller Starships are the following rules for the size of spacecraft crews.
For spacecraft under 140,000 cubic meters.
Basic Bridge jobs: Captain, Pilot, Navigator, Sensor Operator/Officer, Communication Operator/Officer. In many cases one person will fill several of the jobs.
Command Bridge jobs: all the Basic Bridge jobs, plus one to three extra sensor operators, one to three extra communication officers, a computer officer, and a science fictional defensive force field officer.
Sickbay: two medics for the first sickbay, at least one for each additional sickbay, one sickbay per 120 passenger staterooms.
Engineering: about one Engineer for each 500 cubic meters of propulsion system.
Weapons: one gunner per weapon turret.
Cargo: one cargo master (may be another job taken by the Captain).
Passenger Staterooms: One master steward. One additional steward per 50 middle class passengers and one per 20 high class passengers.
For spacecraft over 140,000 cubic meters. These numbers are averages, military vessels will have larger crews to allow for multiple shifts.
Command Section: Commanding officer, Executive officer, two Navigation officers, Communication officer, as support personnel a number of rating crewmen equal to 50% of the number of officers. On ships over 3,000,000 cubic meters the number of personnel in command section should be about five per 1,400,000 cubic meters.
Engineering Section: about one Engineer for each 500 cubic meters of propulsion system.
Gunnery Section: One chief gunnery officer. One petty officer for each kind of weapon the ship is armed with. For "spinal" weapons (where the ship's spine is composed of one huge weapon) one crew man per 14,000 cubic meters. Each weapon "bay" requires two crew men, each battery of turrets requires one crew man. The total crew complement in gunnery section will be about 10% officers, 30% petty officers, and 60% crew men.
Medical Section: One chief medical officer. One full time medic or assistant per 50 people on board.
Service Section: For shops, storage, security, food service, etc. If there are no troops, 3 service crew per 140,000 cubic meters or 100 other crew, whichever is larger. If the ship carries troops, 2 service crew per 140,000 cubic meters or 100 other crew, whichever is larger. A luxury liner will have even more service crew.
Troop Section: Military vessels over 140,000 cubic meters will have "marines" (space-ines?). The number will range from 3 per 140,000 cubic meters to 3 per 14,00 cubic meters.
Specialist Section: Cargo specialists, science crew, intelligence officers, liaison officers, electronic warfare officers, etc. As needed.
Stranger In A Strange Land
Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land suggested these crew skills as a minimal list for an interplanetary exploration spacecraft:
- medical doctor
- ship's commander
- chemical engineer
- electronics engineer
- atomics engineer
- rocket engineer
In the novel the ship could only carry a maximum of eight crewmembers, so each person filled a minimum of three of these jobs, and most of them did four or more.
2010: Odyssey Two
In Sir Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, they had these crew positions:
- Captain Tatiana Orlova (Engineering-Propulsion)
- Dr Vasili Orlov (Navigation-Astronomy)
- Dr Maxim Brailovsky (Engineering-Structures)
- Dr Alexander Kovalev (Engineering-Communications)
- Dr Nikolai Ternovsky (Engineering-Control Systems)
- Surgeon-Commander Katerina Rudenko (Medical-Life-Support)
- Dr Irma Yakunina (Medical-Nutrition)
Young People's Science Encyclopedia
The Young People's Science Encyclopedia, vol 17 Sp-Su, suggest these crew positions:
|Profession||Specialization||Primary Professional Responsibility||Organizational Responsibility|
|Pilot & Engineer||Mechanical & Nuclear||Overall vehicle systems, propulsion||Command of spacecraft|
|Pilot & Engineer||Electronics||Guidance, control, navigation on board electronic computer system||First deputy commander|
|Pilot & Engineer||Electrical & nuclear||All electrical systems, cable systems, converters, generators, auxiliary power supply||Second deputy commander|
|Pilot & Engineer||Nuclear||Propulsion specialist||Specialist|
|Pilot & Engineer||Mechanical||All mechanical subsystems||Specialist|
|Pilot & Engineer||Electronics||Instrumentation communications, robot systems||Specialist|
|Pilot & Physician||Medicine, Dentistry, Psychiatry, Radiology, Biology, Medical technology||Biotechnical life support systems, food and sanitary control, health and morale of crew||Medical officer|
|Profession||Specialization||Primary Professional Responsibility||Organizational Responsibility|
|Pilot & Engineer||Mechanical & Nuclear||Vehicle systems, all mechanical and electric subsystems and propulsion||Command of spacecraft|
|Pilot & Engineer||Electronics & Electrical||Guidance, control, navigation, all instrumentation and communication||First deputy commander|
|Pilot & Physician||Medicine, Radiology, Biology, Medical technology||Biotechnical subsystems of life support systems, food and sanitary control, health and comfort of crew||Medical officer|
There are some standard nick-names for various jobs (some of these are strictly military).
|Black Gang||Engine room crew (reference to shoveling coal)|
|X Bubbas||Generic term for group of officers. May apply to segment of the warfare community, or officers assigned to a specific location or command. (e.g., Orbital Warfare Bubbas, J9 Bubbas, etc.)|
|Chief Snake and his boy
(aka Ratfink and Dob-in)
|Coxwain (in charge of ship's discipline and also steering the ship) and assistant|
|Cooky||Chief Mess Officer|
|Deck Apes||Boatswains mates, Flight deck crew, Aviation Boatswains Mates|
|Fuelies||Aviation Boatswain's Mate - Fueling|
|Guns, Gunner, Gunny||Gunnery officer, Gunner's Mates|
|Jack in the Dust||Baker|
|Knuckle dragger||Crewmember with more brawn than brain|
|Mess Cranks||Non-rated men assigned to assist in the galley|
|Nukes||Nuclear power techs|
|Sparks, Sparky||Radio officer or Electronics tech|
|Spooks||Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Cryptography officers|
|Twidgets||Electronic Warfare officers|
|Wingnut||Crewmember of limited intelligence who is safer away from
anything more hazardous than a pencil
|X Weenie||Generic Term. The "Intel Weenie" is the Intelligence Specialist|
|Zeros||Officers (used by enlisted men only)|
In the game SPI's Universe, there are some colorful names for various professions.
Astroguard: member of a planet's or star system's local military spacecraft force.
Star Sailor: member of the federal spacecraft navy.
Freefaller: soldier in the zero-gravity branch of the federal armed forces.
Ranger: soldier in the standard ground branch of the federal armed forces.
Spacetrooper: soldier in the assault force branch of the federal armed forces.
Scout: member of the exploration branch of the federal armed forces.
Future job terms
Tyge Sjostrand suggest the term Espatiers for space marines, since after all the term "marine" implies the ocean (French marine, from Latin marinus, derived from mare "sea"). The best guess I have at how it is pronounced is "Ess pa tee yea". Rick Robinson really likes Mr. Sjostrand suggestion:
"Espatier" is a twofer. Its formation exactly parallels "Marine" (also French-derived, as are nearly all basic military terms), and it also parallels the English word "spacer," but with a nice shade of meaning - a spacer is anyone who lives/works in space; an espatier is a space soldier.
Frederik Vezina disagrees about the pronunciation.
While the suggested "Ess pa tee yea" isn't especially unlikely, the French would be much closer to "Ess pa cee yay", as the t in the French "spatial" is pronounced like an s or a soft c.
The English adaptation would almost certainly end in "yea", because that's what usually happens to French words, but the c sound would likely remain, IMO.
And in the anime Macross, the (Japanese) writers noted that the military on the ground is called the "Army" and the military on the ocean is called the "Navy", so logically the military in space would be called the "Spacy" (alternatively it could be a contraction of "Space Navy"). Since the release of Macross, the term has been used in other works: Martian Successor Nadesico, Voices of a Distant Star, and Mobile Suit Gundam.
Alas, "Spacy" is a little too similar to "Spacey", which in the slang of the United States means "vague and dreamy, as if under the influence of drugs".
In the days of wooden sailing vessels and iron men, large ships operated for months, sometimes years, out of communication with their home port. Ships' officers had to have excellent generalist educations, familiarity with all manner of nautical engineering, what passed for science and medicine, and the forms of management psychology appropriate to all-male crews, some of whom had been "pressed" (impressed or shanghaied) and some of whom were such social misfits that they either liked or accepted being locked up in a tiny vessel with the scum of the earth for years.
Unsupported ships far from home encounter situations that require instant, appropriate, response. There is no time to take a vote. And if a vote were taken, the result would likely not be optimal, since if the crew were sufficiently competent to make management-level decisions in the first place, they'd likely not have been drunk under the tables in those bars where there "Press Gangs" dug them up.
Hierarchical command structures became the norm, even for ships on non-military missions, LONG before we had formalized governments and armies and navies. It was the only way to insure that the ship would probably return home!
The reason for NAVAL structure over "Army" or "Air Force" has to do with organizational psychology; over centuries, civilized Navies have specialized in operating and caring for ships which represent a huge capital expenditure on the part of their society. A ship's Captain SIGNS for that ship when he takes command; he is personally responsible for every nut, bolt, and person aboard. He is responsible for maintenance, training, condition, survival, of the vessel.
If an Army unit gets shot up, the survivors can run in all directions and try to regroup. If an Air Force aircraft gets shot down, parachutes and internment are a potential option. If a Naval vessel gets whacked, all you have are several hundred (or several thousand) expensively-trained people swimming around in circles while the sharks pick out lunch.
Thus, the SHIP is the heart of the naval unit, and the Captain and his command staff the godlike nerve center of the commensal entity. A naval craft is a city-state, a small nation, sufficient unto itself, capable of performing hugely varied missions.
So, to answer your question in brief, it's a tradition of centuries that exploratory and research vessels are operated Navy-style, preferably "ship-shape and Bristol fashion."
Note that Heinlein was a Naval Academy grad who served on shipboard, Malcolm Jameson was a Naval command officer, Theodore Sturgeon served in the Merchant Marine, A. Bertram Chandler spent his entire career at sea as a command officer, a skipper from the early forties on.... and so on, and so on. (E.E. Smith was an Army officer, and as far as I know, John W. Campbell, Jr., never served.)
While folks like Russell had a field day sticking pins in brass hats and military pomp, even they accepted at least a quasi-Naval organizational structure as the automatic best default. (I believe EFR was Royal Army, by the way, a Sandhurst brat.)
Lastly, the initial model Roddenberry used was A.E. Van Vogt's composite novel, "THE VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE," which was very loosely modeled on the voyage of the Royal Navy craft, H.M.S. Beagle; and Roddenberry served briefly as a Navy pilot in WWII. (Although not a terribly distinguished one, he did manage to get out of the war with his rank and flight qualifications intact, and flew as a commercial pilot for a time.) Thus, "Old Trek" was imbued with a slight naval tradition at the outset, and since it's been an unconscious model for TV-SkiFfy for three decades, we get some naval tradition in TV SF as well as the more formalized standard in written SF.
The major problems with the handling of the military in "BABYLON 5" come from the fact that none of the writers and producers appear to have any actual military experience, and I strongly suspect that JMS had no understanding of traditional military rank structures and protocols at the outset, thus generating himself a mishmosh of errors that it will be a great deal of trouble to clear up. Naval and Army rank systems have been fairly standardized for centuries, and it's very unlikely that something that works so well will have gone by the board in a mere 150 years. While it may happen that rank-names or insignia become standardized across branches of service, it still makes some sense to maintain a bit of differentiation between branch ranks.
(Our present-day mismatch of the rank "Captain" is worth a repair job, for example; a Land Captain is an O-3, rarely in charge of more than a Company (figure 150 men, tops.) A Naval Captain is an O-6, in charge of major vessels or installations; he's the equivalent of a Land Colonel, three ranks above a Land Captain. This kind of thing could use some work, in all likelihood.)
Captain Christopher Thrash of the US 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment disagrees with the paragraphs above in yellow:
This part of the essay is misleading: the commander of an Army unit or an Air Force aircraft is exactly as personally responsible for their respective success and well-being as a Naval commander is for his vessel, at least in US law.
The meaningful distinctions are centralization and duration:
Any Army (or Marine) unit of whatever size will, since the American Civil War, "run in all directions" virtually all the time -- except on the parade field. The exercise of command is therefore indirect (via nested orders of increasing detail and specificity) and decentralized, as opposed to the "one will rules all" of a ship at sea or in space. In this sense, ground units are more akin to squadrons, wings or fleets of ships or aircraft, rather than individual vehicles.
Aircraft are the heart and focus of an Air Force organization, every bit as much as a ship is for a Navy. The difference here is that aircraft depart from a (more or less) secure base, conduct their mission, and return to it in a matter of hours, not weeks or months. An Air Force therefore puts its combatants (officers, mostly) in harm's way, while leaving the supporting crew behind. Naval vessels carry most of their support with them wherever they go.
The distinction the author makes between downed aviators and naval crew in the water is a cheap shot: bailing out over enemy territory is no more safe or pleasant than being cast adrift, and naval crews are every bit as subject to capture and internment. Again, the distinction is that only the direct combatants are at risk in an aircraft, while all the support personnel are exposed in a ship (or a ground unit, for that matter).
Traditionally, the areas of the craft closest to the control rooms is known as "officer country", while the greasy cabled and be-piped areas inhabited by sergeants and enlisted men is known as "below decks" (though which is below what becomes an open question in microgravity). Generally a 24 hour "day" will be divided into six 4-hour watches, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.
It's not as bad as I expected. Piniaz is the sort of watch officer who stays out of the way. He makes his presence felt only when he joins Chief Nicastro by making sure Westhause's preprogrammed jumps are putting the ship into the right places in the search pattern. The astrogator can't be on the job all the time, though he does sleep less than anyone else.
Yanevich's shipboard title is a misnomer this patrol (First Watch Officer). The Commander himself has taken the first watch. Yanevich really has the second. Piniaz has the third. In Line ships the Astrogation Officer normally stands the third watch. In Climbers that usually falls to the Ship's Services Officer. The Commander is kept free.
The Old Man thinks our Ensign too green. In the quiet passages, though, he brings Bradley in for a watch. He hands it to me at times, too. Sometimes Diekereide takes a turn- "just in case." The Commander has even dragged Varese in on rare occasion. One of an officer's unwritten duties is to learn everything possible. It may save your ship someday.
Watch schedules don't mean much aboard a Climber, except to officers, who assume four-hour chunks of responsibility. The men come and go. In Ops Chiefs Nicastro and Canzoneri just make sure that the critical stations are manned. In Weapons Chiefs Bath and Holtsnider do the same.
In Engineering, where they stand six on and six off and most of the stations must be continuously manned, life is more structured.