If your spacecraft have particularly weak propulsion systems, the ugly spectre of Every gram counts appears when you select your crew. Particularly with the crewperson's waistline. Put simply: the fatter you are, the more grams you mass, therefore the more propellant will have to be expended to propel your obese derrière through space.
The astromilitary will probably have a maximum weight limit on rocketmen. An enlisted person who puts on a kilo or two will have the sergeant wondering out loud how they can stand to carry around all that penalty-weight. If the enlisted person continues to gain, they will suddenly find themselves put on a diet and assigned all sorts of weight-losing exercise.
One hopes that there will not be a chronic problem with anorexia nervosa in the astromilitary.
So rocketeers would tend to be short and wiry. In Sir Arthur C. Clarke's classic THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY, space station construction crews got a pay bonus if they kept their weight below 68 kilograms (150 pounds).
Potential crew members will also have to be able to withstand the rigors of space travel. Things like:
- Enduring multiple gs of acceleration with no injury
- No claustrophobia from the cramped living conditions. And no agoraphobia if you have to do a space walk
- The ability to endure long periods of boredom without psychologically cracking
- Being in good health so as to minimize the risk of medical emergencies when the ship is months away from the nearest hospital
- The ability to handle handle unexpected drops in atmospheric oxygen level
- Resistance to drop sickness
- Resistance to psychological problems
- A low cumulative lifetime radiation dose
Note that the restrictions on body mass and claustrophobia would also be a good argument for rocketeers being:
- Female OR
As it turns out, on the average, females mass less, eat less, and are more immune to boredom that males. As are people of the oriental persuasion, especially Japanese.
This turned up in a 1995 novel and anime television series called Rocket Girls. Maybe not so surprisingly, Japanese media in general is noted for its high standards of scientific accuracy. In this case the anime series had JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency) and real-life Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki as technical advisors.
The fictitious Solomon Space Association is developing the low-mass suits since their anemic one-lung LS-5 rocket can barely lift itself off the launch pad, let alone any payload. In a further desperate attempt to save on mass, they are reduce to using 16 year old girls as astronauts (which is a predictable development for a Japanese anime). They only weigh 38 kilograms, instead of the sixty-odd kilograms of the adult male astronauts. They take up less room in the control cabin as well.
One of the stranger specialized skills a spacecraft crew member might have is using ones foot like a hand. Could come in handy in free fall.
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).
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.
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.
|Traditional US Navy watches|
|2000 - 0000||First watch|
|0000 (midnight) - 0400||Mid watch|
|0400 - 0800||Morning watch|
|0800 - 1200 (noon)||Forenoon watch|
|1200 - 1600||Afternoon watch|
|1600 - 1800||First Dog watch|
|1800 - 2000||Last Dog watch|
The problem with having one crew member for each ship function 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.
So what you do is divide a day into a number of "watches", and for each post that must be constantly manned there will be a number of crew members sufficient to fill all the watches. "Standing a watch" means being on duty at a specific station during a particular portion of the day. Crewmembers who are currently on watch are called "watchstanders." Under normal conditions, a crew member standing watch is relieved of all other duties. Please note that "General Quarters" is NOT a normal condition.
At the end of their watch, a crew member will wait until they are "relieved" by the crew member in the next watch. The first crew member will tell the second that "all is well". What that actually means is "everything is OK, if anything goes wrong it's your problem now."
The crew will be divided into "duty sections" and each duty section is assigned to one or more watches. A ship will have three, four, or six duty sections, with each duty section assigned to a number of watches to ensure full coverage. That is, if a ship has six watches in a day, and there are three duty sections, each duty section will be assigned to 6 / 3 = 2 watches. There are more details here.
Generally a 24 hour "day" will be divided into six 4-hour watches. However, depending on the ship, the number of watches in a day can be anything from three to six. Sometimes the watch that occurs during dinner time is split into two "dog watches." This allows the people assigned to that watch to eat their evening meal. Dog watches also ensure that there is an odd number of watches in a day, which ensures that a duty section is not stuck with the same watches every day.
On the Starship Enterprise, there are six watches: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta. They have no dog watches because dinner is available from a replicator at any hour. And since there is no day and night in space, there is no way that a duty section can even tell if it is standing the same watch every day.
Some posts do not need to be manned round the clock, so there will be fewer crew assigned than the number of watches in a day.
The watch system works nicely with the "hot bunk" system. This is where several crew members in different duty sections share one bunk in a desperate attempt by spacecraft designers to reduce crew quarter mass. (Barry Messina explained to me that watch standing and hot bunking are totally independent of each other)
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.
Discovery's Schedule 0000 0100 Bowman goes to sleep
Poole inspects ship
0200 0300 0400 Poole reports to Mission Control 0500 0600 Bowman awakes, breakfast 0700 Bowman relieves Poole
Bowman checks instruments
Start Poole's 6 hr off-duty
0800 0900 1000 Bowman study period 1100 1200 Bowman's lunch, Poole's dinner 1300 Bowman inspects ship
Poole goes to sleep
1400 1500 1600 Bowman reports to Mission Control 1700 1800 Poole awakes, breakfast 1900 Poole relieves Bowman
Poole checks instruments
Start Bowman's 6 hr off-duty
2000 Bowman dinner, Poole lunch 2200 Poole study period 2300
The day-by-day running of the ship had been planned with great care, and — theoretically at least — Bowman and Poole knew what they would be doing at every moment of the twenty-four hours. They operated on a twelve-hours-on, twelve-hours-off basis, taking charge alternately, and never being both asleep at the same time. The officer on duty remained on the Control Deck, while his deputy saw to the general housekeeping, inspected the ship, coped with the odd jobs that constantly arose, or relaxed in his cubicle.
Bowman’s day began at 0600, ship’s time — the Universal Ephemeris Time of the astronomers.
His first official act of the day would be to advance the Master Hibernation Timer twelve hours. If this operation was missed twice in a row, Hal would assume that both he and Poole had been incapacitated, and would take the necessary emergency action.
Bowman would attend to his toilet, and do his isometric exercises, before settling down to breakfast and the morning’s radio-fax edition of the World Times.
At 0700 he would officially relieve Poole on the Control Deck, bringing him a squeeze-tube of coffee from the kitchen. If — as was usually the case — there was nothing to report and no action to be taken, he would settle down to check all the instrument readings, and would run through a series of tests designed to spot possible malfunctions. By 1000 this would be finished, and he would start on a study period.
So for two hours, from 1000 to 1200, Bowman would engage in a dialogue with an electronic tutor, checking his general knowledge or absorbing material specific to this mission. He would prowl endlessly over ship’s plans, circuit diagrams, and voyage profiles, or would try to assimilate all that was known about Jupiter, Saturn, and their far-ranging families of moons.
At midday, he would retire to the galley and leave the ship to Hal while he prepared his lunch. Even here, he was still fully in touch with events, for the tiny lounge-cum-dining room contained a duplicate of the Situation Display Panel, and Hal could call him at a moment’s notice. Poole would join him for this meal, before retiring for his six-hour sleep period, and usually they would watch one of the regular TV programs beamed to them from Earth.
After lunch, from 1300 to 1600 Bowman would make a slow and careful tour of the ship — or such part of it as was accessible. Discovery measured almost four hundred feet from end to end, but the little universe occupied by her crew lay entirely inside the forty-foot sphere of the pressure hull.
By 1600, he would have finished his inspection, and would make a detailed verbal report to Mission Control, talking until the acknowledgment started to come in. Then he would switch off his own transmitter, listen to what Earth had to say, and send back his reply to any queries. At 1800 hours, Poole would awaken, and he would hand over command.
He would then have six off-duty hours, to use as he pleased. Sometimes he would continue his studies, or listen to music, or look at movies. Much of the time he would wander at will through the ship’s inexhaustible electronic library.
The last hours of Bowman’s day were devoted to general cleaning up and odd jobs, followed by dinner at 2000 — again with Poole. Then there would be an hour during which he would make or receive any personal call from Earth.
Just before he signed off Bowman would make his final report, and check that Hal had transmitted all the instrumentation tapes for the day’s run. Then, if he felt like it, he would spend a couple of hours either reading or looking at a movie; and at midnight he would go to sleep — usually without any help from electronarcosis. Poole’s program was a mirror image of his own, and the two schedules dovetailed together without friction.
Science fiction authors would do well to follow Burnside's Zeroth Law of space combat: Science fiction fans relate more to human beings than to silicon chips. Aerospace combat fans want to read about hot-shot Top Gun fighter pilots, not The Adventures of Droney, the unmanned combat aerial vehicle.
The trouble is that scientific realism is on the side of Droney.
Since science fiction authors are trying to make a living, they favor the Zeroth Law. Given the sorry state of the audience it is possible for writers to simply ignore the problem, most of the audience won't even notice. But if the writers want some kind of fig-leaf, there are a few tricks that can be used.
Yes, there are exceptions to Burnside's Zeroth Law in science fiction, but they are few, far in between, and the result of exceptionally skilled authors. These are the "exceptions that Test the rule" (the original aphorism is from the Latin, and the word "probat" in this context should be translated as "test", not "prove"). Examples include "Longshot" by Vernor Vinge, "Sun Up" by A. A. Jackson and Howard Waldrop and the Bolo stories by Keith Laumer et al.
Automated Space Exploration, Not
The manned camp points out that robot probes are so pared to the bone that often they have the wrong set of sensors to spot the important stuff. Humans are far more versatile, and can spot things that are unexpected. Plus men in space are really really kewel.
The unmanned camp points out that you get several orders of magnitude of bang-for-your-buck when you use robot probes. The mass cost for the life support system to keep the astronauts alive and healthy is hideously expensive. You can send thousands of space probes for the cost of a single manned mission.
But I point out the pragmatic fact No Buck Rogers = No Bucks. If NASA eliminates all its astronauts, it will quickly find its budget cut to the bone, or even find itself closed down. The great unwashed masses are not going to have their tax money going to fund silly satellites sending back boring scientific data. They want to see spacemen!
Stephen Hawking put it this way: "Robotic missions are much cheaper and may provide more scientific information, but they don't catch the public imagination in the same way, and they don't spread the human race into space, which I'm arguing should be our long-term strategy. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before."
Which is plenty of ammo for a science fiction author to use to silence their critics. Stephen Hawking sez so!
Automated Crew, Not
Rick Robinson notes that nobody navigates a boat by shooting the sun with a sextant anymore, instead you turn on your GPS unit. Most of the labor will be automated and computerized.
Rick has a brilliant solution with is Mission Control Model (see below). And in the case of space combat, there are drawback to using robots and teleoperated drones.
Automated Pilots, Not
A one man fighter spacecraft would be a more effective weapon if you removed the fighter pilot, their life support, and their acceleration limits, and then replaced them with a computer. You would basically be converting the fighter spacecraft into a roving missile bus, and removing the logical justification for the existence of fighter spacecraft altogether. But fighter spacecraft have to exist, according to the Zeroth Law (well, actually not. Fighters don't have to exist if there are humans on the carrier/missile boat and/or the target ship).
In a discussion I witnessed, Henry Cobb described a combat spacecraft with a Magic Fusion Torch (i.e., an exceedingly powerful unobtanium propulsion system). Eric Henry asked why not replace the human pilot with a computer. Henry Cobb correctly noted: "By the Zeroth Law, the Magical Fusion Torch only works when there is somebody on board to maintain the enchantment."
Eric Henry then wisely observed: "Ah. The Schrödinger Drive."
The above exchange may seem humorous, but I have seen the same concept actually used in science fiction.
In Larry Niven's The Borderland of Sol, he postulates a technobabble gizmo called a "mass sensor" which is a "psionic" device. It warns of gravity fields which will destroy starships using Niven's FTL drive. The psionic device can only be watched by a living being, a computer cannot use it for some silly hand-waving reason or other. Niven invented it because he wanted to write about human starship pilots, not write about starships that flew themselves under computer control. Burnside's Zeroth Law strikes again.
In the 1984 Atari 800 computer game Quest of the Space Beagle, the FTL drive requires a human pilot. As the ship enters FTL, the jump must be balanced or the ship goes off course. The only way to to detect an imbalance is by noticing alterations in the flow of time. And computers cannot notice such alterations since their only sense of time is measured by ticks of their system clock. (In my long and misspent youth, I did the illustrations for that game's manual.)
In the DUNE novels, Guild Steersmen are humans mutated by massive consumption of the spice melange. Starships move FTL by folding space but the limited computers allowed are not powerful enough to calculate a safe path (Butlerian Jihad, y'know). The Guild Steersmen have an ability to see into the future and thus plot a safe journey.
In Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, FTL starships can only travel long distances in hyperspace (called "Grimspace") by using "beacons." These are navigational beacons placed all over the entire known Grimspace by some long dead forerunners. Lamentably these beacons cannot be used by machines, they can only be detected by human beings who were born with the Jumper gene. These "Jumpers" are in short supply, especially since they generally have to retire after a ten-year career or go permanently insane. Which means the supply of operational FTL starships is in exactly the same short supply.
In the depressing universe of the Warhammer 40,0000 game, FTL starships attempt to fly through that chaotic dimension called Warpspace. Early starships didn't last long since another name for Warpspace is Hell, hideous demons and all. Devils apart, it is almost impossible to navigate in Warpspace due to the raging tides and currents of raw psychic energy. To tame this, the Emperor of Man created the Astronomican. This is a beacon powered by 10,000 specially-selected psykers and directed by the Emperor of Man. On board a starship, special psionic mutants called Navigators can perceive the beacon and use it like a cosmic GPS to guide starships through the fury of Warpspace.
Some science fiction novels take this to the next level, where human beings are actually irreplaceable components of the starship's FTL propulsion.
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.
Late breaking news: Karl Gallagher figured out a plausible reason for forcing slide rule use, which can be found in his Torchship series.
Like any other living system, a spaceship crew can be analyzed with Living Systems Theory, to discover sources of interesting plot complications.
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), and pursers. Maybe a science officer if you have one of those unvirile exploration ships.
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.
For starters, it is a myth that Captains are allowed to perform marriages. Sorry kids, you'll have to find somebody else to marry you.
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. On a larger ship, the department heads will be responsible for creating the watchbill for their department.
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.
Pilots direct the spacecraft by controlling the ship's attitude and thrust. If the thrust control is sufficiently complicated, the pilot gives thrust commands to the on-duty engineer, and the engineer controls the thrust. "Sufficiently complicated" usually means there is a fission or fusion reactor involved in the thrust.
On US Naval vessels, the Helmsman controls the ship's attitude and the Lee Helmsman controls the ship's thrust. The bridge officer who currently has the Conn (the Conning Officer) is the only person the Helmsman and Lee Helmesman listen to for orders about the direction of the ship.
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.
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.
Doctors/Medics see to the health of the crew, and treat wounds/diseases. They are never risked on any hazardous non-medical task or possibly dangerous environment. A first-in scout mission on a newly discovered planet could be in deep doo-doo if the doctor takes a stroll and is suddenly eaten by the Giant Trap-Door Spideroid (link trigger warning: spiders).
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). If the crew is not living off of pre-packaged food ration packs, there may be a cook. Life support techs maintain the breathing mix and temperature of the habitat module, and tend to any CELSS algae reactors or hydroponic farms.
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. John Reiher points out that given the reality of the spartan limitation on a ship's delta-V, there is probably little they could do to render assistance besides helpful advice over the radio. If they tried to match postion and vector they'd use up all their delta-V, so now there are two ships in distress. The best they can do is notify the Orbit Guard.
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.
The concept of a spacecraft version of a passenger liner or an ocean cruise ship is a little science-fictional for the near future. But if your science fiction universe has such, you will definitly need Stewards to take care of the paying passengers. After all, said passengers are the revenue stream for such spacecraft.
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."
A working animal is a creature (usually domesticated, but tamed will do) that is kept by people and trained to perform tasks.
Primitive man was a hunter, dogs fit in like a hand in glove. But the problems started with the invention of agriculture. You have to store the grain somewhere, and that somewhere would instantly become the rat's all-you-can-eat grain buffet. Farmers grew livid.
Lucky for the farmers, all the feral cats in the neighborhood would consider the barn to be an all-you-can-eat rat buffet. This was the origin of the farm cat. Good kitty!
Even in the real world many sea-going vessels have a ship's cat to control the rodent infestation. Blasted rats can do major damage to ropes, woodwork, electrical wiring, food supplies, not to mention huge cargo holds full of grain.
In the cargo hold of an interstellar trading starship one will sometimes find a ship's cat (to catch those pesky alien rats). 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.
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.
Just don't let a pregnant space cat evolve for three million years or you'll end up with The Cat from Red Dwarf.
This is more than just guard dogs. 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! This is an example of an animal sentinel, commonly called "a canary in a coal mine".
And in the "practical but disgusting" catagory, you have genetically engineered roaches.
Interstellar colonists on planets with little or no infrastruture will favor animals over machines. Tractors require steel mills, petroleum refineries, factories, repairpeople, and spare parts. Horses just require grass and a breeding pair.
In science fiction, things can get a little more interesting. Genetic engineering can enhance the working animal's useful abilities. In Andre Norton's The Beast Master one of the working animals in a galactic commando sabotage group are mutated sand cats. The original species are cute little furry things the size of house cats, the mutants are deadly combat creatures the size of a puma. Mistress Norton's stories also often have such working animals gifted with telepathic communication with their "owners" (in addition to the protagonist).
But things really get tense when the working animals are mutated to increase their intelligence. Yes this makes them more useful, but make one slip and suddenly you have a Rise of the Planet of the Apes situation on your hands. The furry tool turns into a terrible master.
In an Uplift situation, the entire point was to engineer an animal species into a fellow intelligent race. Things are marginally less tense due to the fact that no attempt is being made to keep the animals enslaved. Just indentured.
Police have had K-9 units for a long time, because they work incredibly well. Their duties include searching for drugs and explosives, searching for lost people, looking for crime scene evidence, and protecting their handlers. Specialized types include sentry and attack dog, search and rescue dog, detection dog or explosive-sniffing dog, arson dogs, and cadaver dogs.
Dog also have an continuing role in the military. Land-mine and booby-trap detection, tracking enemy troops, scouts, sentries, very useful creatures. In the US upon retirement military dogs can be adopted by their former handlers or a new family, providing the lucky owner with a highly skilled pet.
During World War 1 dogs not only acted as standard rescuers and sentries, they also did more uncommon jobs like laying battlefield telephone lines and alerting soldiers if they smelled deadly mustard gas.
World War 1 also used tens of thousands of homing pigeons to relay messages, because they were agile and could fly high enough above the trenches to (mostly) avoid being shot by the enemy. A pigeon named Cher Ami delivered his message despite suffering three gunshot wounds, which saved Battalion 194 (being shelled by friendly fire from allied artillery). The heroic one-legged bird lived for another year before succumbing to his wounds, you can see his taxideried body at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Conditions for soldiers were so horrfic during WWI that many regiments adopted animals as mascots, as sources of consolation, familiarity, and morale. Not just dogs: cats, foxes, raccoon, bear cubs, baby alligators, and even lion cubs. When you are stuck in the middle of a nightmare composed of trench warfare, barbed wire, machine guns, and mustard gas you take your mascot in whatever form it comes in.
Currently the US (wet) Navy has a program using dolphins and sea lions, locating underwater mines and enemy swimmers. This one is apparently more successful since it is on-going and still classified.
In the classic "The Game of Rat and Dragon" by Cordwainer Smith, cats and humans team up to defend starships from a malevolent life form called "Dragons."
In a rocketpunk future where there exists civilian and corporate owned spacecraft, a ship owner won't hire a new crew-member if they are unqualified for the job. Crew-members will be "certified" for various positions: pilot, engineer, medic, etc. A spacer will have their certifications in something like a resume. The owner will want to see the resume of all potential hires to filter out unqualified applicants.
Some certifications will have to be kept current with periodic re-testing. This is much like how modern-day people have to periodically renew their drivers license. This is to prove: [a] the spacer still remembers how to do that job and [b] the spacer is up to speed on any new equipment or other innovations that have appeared since their last renewal.
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.
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 "war movie 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)
|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 the 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 watchbill is different under non-normal high-priority combat conditions. Combat ships should 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:
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.
So the Mission Control Model demonstrates that a ship mostly crewed with robots and teleoperated drones does make more sense than an all human crew. But having said that, things get a bit more problematic if the spacecraft is a combat spacecraft. That is, a craft that will often suffer random damage from hostile weapons fire. You are going to need very sophisticated robotics or the crew will need to do lots of hands on teleoperating. It is easy for a robot to unplug a malfunctioning module and inserting a new one. It is hard for the robot's AI to figure out how to splice a new cable on the burnt ragged end of the old one and re-routing it around the random jagged hole that just got shot out of the hull.
In the early days of space travel, you will have crew with odd reflexes. They will spill their full glasses of beverages by their habit of just letting go, as if they expected the glass to float in space station free fall instead of plummeting to the ground under Terran gravity.
After a few decades of space travel, you will start to see crew retiring from active duty. You'll be able to tell by how they suffer from Old Astronaut Syndrome.
After a few generations you will see crew that has started to be genetically different from your run-of-the-mill terrans, with changes adapting them better to the space environment. Especially if they have a tendency to marry each other instead of marrying a ground-gripping Terran. And have crew children.
And once relativistic starships become common, you will have crew returning to Terra after a hundred year interstellar trip (coordinate time) but the crew is only ten years older (proper time). Terrans will be bemused at these old fogey starship crew with fashions, slang, and popular culture references a century out of date. Starship crew will experience serious cultural shock, and be all maudlin about all their stay-at-home friends who died so long ago that all the letters have worn off their tombstones. The crew will be tempted to join relatvistic world ships which carry an entire society inside. At least that way cultural shock is avoided, the society travels with the crew and thus changes at the same rate.
As previously mentioned in many science fiction stories FTL starships require human pilots and navigators with special human abilities, since these abilities mysteriously cannot be duplicated by computers. Thus giving the science fiction authors a handy way of avoiding Burnside's Zeroth Law of space combat.
In The Starmen of Llyrdis there exists FTL starships. Unfortunately unless you have the starman gene in your chromosomes FTL flight will kill you in seconds.
- In Robert Sheckley's short story Specialist (1953) starships are composite creatures. Many planets are home to "wall" aliens who form the hull, some planets have "atomic engine" aliens who are the normal space propulsion system, some have "eye" aliens who are sensors, some have "network" aliens who plug into the minds of all the components for coordination, and some have food producer aliens. As it turns out, Terra is planet home to "pushers", who are the FTL drives of starships.
- In the wargame StarForce Alpha Centauri starships are "shifted" instantly across the light-years by teams of women with psionic powers. Such women cannot be created by genetic engineering nor can their abilities be duplicated by machines. This means the only valuable thing on a colony planet is its population size.
- In the role playing game SPI's Universe, if a starship is at a jump point and it has a functional jump pod, a psionically gifted person with the Psi Naviation skill can instantly "jump" the starship to another star system. The supply of psionic people is again the bottleneck.
Please note the implications of this. If a specific crewperson is also part of the FTL drive, the captain is never going to let that person risk their well-being. Especially if the captain does not have a spare FTL crewperson. They will never have to perform heavy manual labor or do risky EVA repairs. If another crewperson deliberately harms FTL-person the penalty may be death, certainly if it results in the starship being stranded in deep space for all eternity. They probably won't be allowed to go to Star-town for a beer, not if an unexpected bar brawl can give FTL-person a concussion or worse. And there is exactly zero chance that the captain of a Survey ship will even let FTL-person step outside the airlock to walk on an unexplored planet. Remember that the ship's medic is never risked, that goes double for your walking-talking FTL drive. If your doctor is killed on an unexplored planet, the expedition will have to be careful about medical emergencies. If your FTL-person is killed, the survey expedition has just turned into an impromptu interstellar colony because the ship ain't going anywhere.
There will be other implications because conventional mechanical FTL drives do not form labor unions. If FTL-persons are part of a guild, that guild (or whoever controls it) will wield great power. A strike of FTL Union local 23 can bring the economy of a planet to its knees. And if the guild has a monopoly on FTL-persons you will have a full fledged Thalassocracy on your hands. In StarForce Alpha Centauri all the ships on both side of the conflict used FTL-women from the guild, which means all the anti-ship weapons were non-lethal. And the Spacing guild in the DUNE novels was one of the major political powers.
In spacecraft as shown on movies and TV, they often use the "war movie bomber crew" model, also known as "tramp freighter crew" or Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. That is, a crew like a World War II bomber aircraft as depicted in old war movies. 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. Rick Robinson calls it the Rocketpunk challenge of specialization. Mr. Robinson points out that on wet navy ships during the Age of Sail the crewmembers were interchangeable. Every able-bodied man could do any of the jobs (except for navigator). But in later vessels in general and in science fiction in specific all crew members are assumed to be specialists.
This is used in media science fiction so often because seeing the equivalent of dysfunctional families fighting each other is very entertaining. Especially if they are simultaneously dodging German soldiers. According to TV Tropes: "Your basic Ragtag Bunch Of Misfits consists of a Hero, a Sidekick, a Big Guy, a Smart Guy, an Old Guy, a Young Guy, and a Funny Guy — But you can call them The Magnificent Seven Samurai."
In Andre Norton's THE SARGASSO OF SPACE, a small Free Trader class starship has twelve crew members.
- Control Deck
- 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
- And of course the ship's cat
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.
In Sir Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, they had these crew positions:
|Engineering-Propulsion||Captain Tatiana Orlova|
|Navigation-Astronomy||Dr Vasili Orlov|
|Engineering-Structures||Dr Maxim Brailovsky|
|Engineering-Communications||Dr Alexander Kovalev|
|Engineering-Control Systems||Dr Nikolai Ternovsky|
|Medical-Life-Support||Surgeon-Commander Katerina Rudenko|
|Medical-Nutrition||Dr Irma Yakunina|
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.|
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:
Frederik Vezina disagrees about the pronunciation.
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".