Uniforms

What will a rocketeer of the Solar Guard wear? Interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith always wore gray faded spacer's leathers and a heat-ray gun but a Guardsman will be more practical. Their uniform will be lightweight, to save on mass. Uniforms for female rocketeers will not have skirts for previously mentioned reasons. The uniform might even be designed to function as an emergency space suit (though it is difficult to design such a suit which is also comfortable enough to be worn all day).

APPAREL. The clothing worn in most of the KNOWN GALAXY, at least that worn by EARTH HUMANS, is for the most part extremely dull, or in very bad taste. Usually both. At least, this is the case in HOLLYWOOD SCIFI, and so far as I can tell from book covers, in most written SF as well. The general norm, especially for advanced societies, is essentially long underwear; the most common alternative is a jumpsuit, equally unflattering and harder to get into or (especially) out of.  These may be tarted up - as in the era c. 2000 CE - with racing stripes, corporate-logo-style swooshes, and so forth. But no matter what you do to them, basically they are all butt-ugly. To be sure, a babelicious actress will still look good, especially since her outfit is invariably skin-tight and low-cut. But she'd look good in anything, and even better in a more flattering costume.

Things are slightly better when WARFARE is involved (which may be why it is so common). Uniforms tend to follow 20th century CE practice, more or less, and so are at least crisp if still basically long underwear. Original Trek did go boldly where no one has gone since, putting the female crew members in those miniskirts. Alas, the feminists did away with that. Their logic might be impeccable, as Spock would say, but 'tis still a pity.

The one social system in the Known Galaxy that allows people to actually look good is NEOFEUDALISM. In Neofeudalist cultures (at least in the ruling class), the men get to wear that most dramatic of male costume accessories, a sword, while the women are all a major eyeful in long, tight, low-cut dresses. There is simply no way to look better without looking tacky. This of course is achieved in the final, decadent stages of the FIRST EMPIRE, when the women - at least those of the Imperial Court - run around looking like the Victoria's Secret catalog. But when you see that much flesh on display, you know that the FALL OF EMPIRE is at hand.

On the whole, ALIENS WITH FOREHEAD RIDGES get to dress better than Earth Humans. The same odd rule applies as with Earth Humans, though; on the whole, the more civilized they are the worse they dress. In general, Space SF Apparel is in a bad way. Give us some help here, people! With at least billions, maybe trillions of intelligent, civilized beings throughout the Known Galaxy, someone ought to be able to come up with a few decent outfits.

Images

Color Coding

A few SF universes color code their uniforms.

SPACE: 1999
ColorRole
BlackCommander
BrownTechnical
FlameMain Mission
YellowService Section
OrangePilot/Reconnaissance
PurpleSecurity
WhiteMedical
NoneCivilian
SPACE CRUISER YAMATO
ColorRole
Red on WhiteCOMBAT: Gunnery, Commandos, Fighter Pilots
Green on WhiteNAVIGATION: Navigation, Radar
Blue on WhiteENGINEERING: various Engineers, excluding Engine Room personnel
Red-Orange on WhiteENGINEERING: Engine Room personnel
Black on YellowLIVING GROUP and COMMUNICATIONS GROUP: living arrangement officers and communication techs
Yellow on BlackBlack Tiger Fighter Pilots
White on BlueKITCHEN GROUP
Black on WhiteCommunication techs and Physics officers
Yellow on WhiteFighter Pilot Maintenance
Blue-Grey on BlueTorpedo Boat Pilots
STAR TREK
ColorRole
Green-GoldCommand: Captain, Helmsmen, Navigation
RedOperations: Engineers and Security
BlueSciences: Medical and Science

Culture

In the old days operation officers wore red, command officers wore gold. And women wore less.

Lieutenant Jadzia Dax, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

If a man walks in dressed like a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he's a spaceman.

It is a logical necessity. His profession makes him feel like boss of all creation; when he sets foot dirtside he is slumming among the peasants. As for his sartorial inelegance, a man who is in uniform nine tenths of the time and is more used to deep space than to civilization can hardly be expected to know how to dress properly. He is a sucker for the alleged tailors who swarm around every spaceport peddling "ground outfits."

But I kept my opinion to myself and bought him a drink with my last half-Imperial, considering it an investment, spacemen being the way they are about money. "Hot jets!" I said as we touched glasses. He gave me a quick glance.

That was my initial mistake in dealing with Dak Broadbent. Instead of answering, "Clear space!" or, "Safe grounding!" as he should have, he looked me over and said softly, "A nice sentiment, but to the wrong man. I've never been out."

But my vocal cords lived their own life, wild and free. "Don't give me that, shipmate," I replied. "If you're a ground hog, I'm Mayor of Tycho City. I'll wager you've done more drinking on Mars," I added, noticing the cautious way he lifted his glass, a dead giveaway of low-gravity habits, "than you've ever done on Earth."

...

"I'll show you," I said. "I'll walk to the door like a ground hog and come back the way you walk. Watch." I did so, making the trip back in a slightly exaggerated version of his walk to allow for his untrained eye - feet sliding softly along the floor as if it were deck plates, weight carried forward and balanced from the hips, hands a trifle forward and clear of the body, ready to grasp.

There are a dozen other details which can't be set down in words; the point is you have to be a spaceman when you do it, with a spaceman's alert body and unconscious balance - you have to live it. A city man blunders along on smooth floors all his life, steady floors with Earth-normal gravity, and will trip over a cigarette paper, like as not. Not so a spaceman.

From DOUBLE STAR by Robert Heinlein, 1956

Insignia

If our valiant rocketeers are part of the astromilitary, they will also have some sort of insignia of rank. And a flashy symbol, either as a shoulder patch or a badge on their caps next to the scrambled eggs. The symbol will probably be some kind of stylized rocketship, a lightning bolt, or the planet Saturn (see the logo of the Sci-Fi Channel). Remember that in Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy the seal of the Galactic Empire was the "spaceship-and-sun". If you are an old-timer like me, you might have seen such logos in the library. They used to place labels on the book spines for mysteries, crime novels, fantasy, and science fiction. Or they may use other insignia.

The Commdor's own bodyguard, in the confusion, had struggled to the front line, and Mallow, for the first time, was near enough to see their unfamiliar hand-weapons in detail.

They were nuclear! There was no mistaking it; an explosive projectile weapon with a barrel like that was impossible. But that wasn't the big point. That wasn't the point at all.

The butts of those weapons had, deeply etched upon them, in worn gold plating, the Spaceship-and-Sun!

The same Spaceship-and-Sun that was stamped on every one of the great volumes of the original Encyclopedia that the Foundation had begun and not yet finished. The same Spaceship-and-Sun that had blazoned the banner of the Galactic Empire through millennia...

...The golden globe with its conventionalized rays, and the oblique cigar shape that was a space vessel.

The Spaceship-and-Sun of the Empire!

From FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov (1951)

The floor of the hall had been cleared of seats. Above the stage at the far end were the three closed circles of the Federation - Freedom, Peace, and Law, so intertwined that, if any one were removed, the other two would fall apart. Under them was the Patrol's own sign, a star blazing in the night.

From SPACE CADET by Robert Heinlein (1948)

Nose Art

And don't forget the spacecraft, it might have nose-art. noted that typical US Navy ships have a squadron logo someplace, while cruisers tend to have the logo of their Group because in the US Navy cruisers are in Groups rather than Squadrons.

Christopher Weuve said that he is a big fan of DESRON-21's logo. As he puts it, just change "Solomons" to something else suitable (Orion? Arcturus?) and you're ready to go.

In a discussion about future military spacecraft paint schemes, Barry Messina says:

MacArthur (from Niven and Pournelle's THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE) is more likely to have some sort of Imperial or Royalist symbology, and might carry personal marks signifying the presence of senior leadership (like Counts) if the leadership was aboard in an official capacity. When the political leader was aboard in an active duty military role, serving as Lt Blaine rather than Count Blaine, then no distinguishing logos for the political rank would be shown. This is like Prince Charles, on active duty with the Royal Navy, being addressed as Lt Windsor, rather than Your Highness. The squadron commodore can tell Lt Windsor that Lt Windsor has done a bad job of getting his minesweeper ready for an inspection. When Lt Windsor's Mom comes by for HRH's birthday, then the squadron commodore had better be on the pier ready to salute. If MacArthur is in a "Royalist" navy, then I'd expect a different "style" from the Strategic Star Command "style".

(The Strategic Star Command cruiser) Leif (Ericson) seems to be stuck in a different storyline, so the SAC-type logos and more aircraft-like, and less naval, marking scheme makes sense.

Another sort of "political" consideration for you to think about: Military organizations with very centrally-managed information operations and publicity campaigns tend to have a consistent "style" in their graphics, and in the integration of their uniforms and symbols. This is most evident during peacetime. Military organizations operating far from HQ, and under combat pressure, tend to be more informal. For instance, German submarines have always (as far as I know off the top of my head) been U-XXX with no other official name. In WWII, many of the subs had unofficial names and a command graphic. Most of the graphics were done by the crew and did not have that polished, commercial "look". The personality of the sub CO had a lot to do with this. The same thing goes for command mottos: there's the official motto on the ship's logo, there's the crew's version of the official motto, and then there's the crew's version of the ship's actual motto. For instance, USS DEWEY DDG-45, official motto PAX PROMPTER VIM, crew translation S**T HAPPENS, crew motto WHY US?.

Barry Messina
Strategic Space Command galactic cruiser Leif Ericson with pseudo-Strategic Air Command markings. Artwork by Winchell Chung.

Standard Gear

There will also be standard "Doc" Smith items like binoculars, anti-nuclear flash goggles (if you have to observe an atomic space battle, or be exposed to blinding laser beams. The US Air Force is developing anti-laser contact lenses), highly accurate wrist and pocket chronometer (for astrogation observations), flashlight (routinely carried by all crewmembers on US naval vessels, because it gets real dark when the power goes out), and a service sidearm. Don't forget your atomic pen.

If the spacecraft is atomic powered, radiation dosimeters will be a standard part of a rocketeer's uniform. Potassium Iodide tablets would also be valuable. If the reactor core is breached, the mildly radioactive fuel and the intensely radioactive fission fragments will be released into the atmosphere. While none of the fission fragment elements are particularly healthy, Iodine-131 is particularly nasty, since one's thyroid gland does its best to soak up iodine, radioactive or not. Thyroid cancer or a hoarse voice from thyroid surgery might be common among atomic rocket old-timers. The instant the reactor breach alarm sounds, whip out your potassium iodide tablets and swallow one.

Computers and Communicators

Additional equipment will include a MOTE IN GOD'S EYE pocket computer, er, ah, Palm PDA smart phone (with a wireless wifi connection to the ship's computer network, if any) and one of those FORBIDDEN PLANET radio-TV communicators. (I cannot believe that the 1990s vintage Star Trek Voyager communicators still don't have a TV, as do the gadgets in the 1956 FORBIDDEN PLANET. How else can you tell if the "all clear" message from your landing party is due to a report given by a sweating crewmember with a Klingon sonic disrupter inserted up their nose? They had TV communicators in Space:1999 for cryin' out loud. Not to mention the VueComms from Johnny Quest).

There is a scene in FORBIDDEN PLANET where the captain and landing party gets a scheduled check-in call from the ship. As per standard operating procedure, the captain acknowledges the call, then turns on the video camera and pans around to prove that he is not speaking under duress.

The pocket computer also appears in Sir Arthur C. Clarke's IMPERIAL EARTH under the name "MiniSec", which I presume is short for "Miniature Secretary".

In the THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE (1974), the pocket computer was also a communicator. When I mentioned THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE , it was making a shrewd non-obvious observation about converging technologies. But since then, smart phones have become commonplace items. They are basically communicators which are also pocket computers.

In Space:1999, the commlocks were video communicators which also acted as electronic keys to open doors. Currently in the real world several companies are trying to make smart phones into credit cards, which is much the same thing.

Of course, the future is today. Pictured below is the Handspring Treo Apple iPhone, which is a pocket-computer/cell-phone combination. It is also a digital camera. I can picture a special vest pocket on officer's uniforms for such a device, with the camera facing outwards, and a built-in cloth sleeve to route the earphone wire up the shoulder and into the ear Bluetooth earphone.

Another interesting feature of the Handspring line was the late lamented "Springboard" expansion slot. This functioned much like the USB port on your computer, the one with the bewildering plethora of gadgets to plug in. So take your Treo, plug in the sensor module, and suddenly you have a Tricorder. There would be modules for geological survey, medical diagnostics, language translation, electronic multimeter, oscilloscope, reference textbooks on a card, various expert systems, and GPS navigation (which would revert to "dead reckoning" if you were stuck on an unexplored planet with no GPS satellites and your survey ship left orbit).

More recently, NASA scientists have been developing small electronic chemical sensors that will plug into an iPhone, transforming it into something approaching a tricorder. Of course you will note how much smaller the iPod unit is than the classic Trek tricorder.

Goggles

"And the googles. I admit that every spaceship officer I've ever seen wears them but I've never seen them used for anything except as sunglasses. Care to explain?"

"The goggles and binoculars form part of the traditional uniform," Larry answered. "The goggles come from the First Jovian War when they were used as eye protection from atomic explosions and laser radiation. The originals had a semi-opaque liquid driven between the lenses by an explosive charge when a certain intensity or type of light hit a sensor on them. The modern ones use a high speed, reversible, light intensity limiting effect; phototropism it's called. Of course neither item is required unless you're using direct viewports."

From New Lensman by William Ellern

Nick Derington mentions that goggles are used on the International Space Station to protect the eyes from debris floating in free fall. You do NOT want metal shaving getting into your eyes. This hazard was discovered by the original Salyut and Mir cosmonauts, the hard way.

On ISS, safety goggles are nominally worn when crews enter new modules that have just arrived on orbit (in which fans have not yet been turned on the draw particulate into the filters).

Other

In his novel Space Angel, John Maddox Roberts suggests that the crew of an interstellar spacecraft would carry "tracetabs". These are dietary supplement pills, containing all the trace elements required for health. If one finds oneself marooned on an alien planet, the local food might be missing vital elements. Tracetabs are kept in a tin on a chain around one's neck, and contain about three thousand tabs.

In free fall the rocketeers may also use a "broomstick" to move around.

If you want to brainstorm some ideas for specialized equipment, you may want to look over some of the gear carried by Batman. Or James Bond.

But you must resign yourself to the fact that when you are writing a science fiction novel. No matter how up-to-date you try to make the gadgets and equipment, in forty years it will all seem as quaint as those 1950's SF novels full of slide rules and people smoking cigarettes.

Engineering Tools

In the Tom Corbett novels, Astro may work in his power deck stripped to the waist with a tool belt loaded with wrenches, but in reality it is more likely that he'll be wearing a HazMat suit. All that radiation, you know.

What sort of tools will the engineers carry? I hate to put a damper on things, but chances are a space wrench will look pretty much like the wrench in your garage. The major exception will be tools designed to be used in free fall (the NASA-speak jargon is "EVA tool"). If you are floating in microgravity, using a conventional screwdriver on a conventional screw will just cause your entire body to spin around the screw axis instead of tightening the blasted thing. Even more ordinary tools need some modification. All liquid lubricant has to be replaced with dry (since most liquid lubricants boil away in vacuum). They will have to be thermally insulated from the temperature extremes encountered in the space environment. Tether points are needed to help prevent the blasted things from floating away. And serial numbers will be needed to keep track of what tools are where.

Having said all that, far be it from me to prevent you from imagining all sorts of weird science-fictional tools.

In the handwaving science fantasy category, the Second, Third, Fourth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor Who always carried his trusty multipurpose sonic screwdriver. In the Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth, the mysterious agent Gary Seven is armed with a tool called a "servo." While the sonic screwdriver and the servo are very similar devices, they made their first appearances on TV only 13 days apart. This is not a case of plagarism, it is more "great minds work alike." In any event, unlike the sonic screwdrdiver, the servo is more than a tool. It is also a communication device and a weapon (with both a "stun" and a "kill" setting).

The 23rd Century scientist Varian from The Fantastic Journey used his sonic energizer as a universal tool (focusing his thoughts into the "sonic manipulation of matter"). Varian's sonic energizer looks suspiciously like the tuning fork tool used by Rem the android in the TV series Logan's Run.

More realistically there was also a "multitool" in the David Drake novel Rolling Hot. It was sort of a combination electric drill/ultrasonic cleaner/screwdriver/socket wrench.


But when you get right down to it, most tools fall into one of two categories. They cut one thing into two or they join two things into one. They subtract or add (the ancient alchemists called it "Solve et coagula", or analysis and synthesis). Cutting tools include knives, chisels, lathes, saws, planers, and sanders. Joining tools include hammer and nails, screwdriver and screws, soldering gun and solder, socket wrench and bolts, arc welders, and glue. Also included under joining tools is solid freeform fabrication for rapid prototyping.

Taken to an extreme, the ultimate cutting tool would be capable of separating a piece of material along a line one atom thick, with a customizable cutting head. In his Known Space novels, Larry Niven invented the "variable sword". This was a handle that extruded a "monofilament wire" one molecule thick, stiffened by a force field. It would cut anything except fabric woven from monofilament or a General Products hull. Imagine a variable sword where one could alter the wire into any shape one wanted.

An even better trick is a tool with a dynamic shape. A controller box would contain the blueprint of the desired shape. Place it next to the block of material and let the box locate itself relative to the block. Plug the cutter into the control box. Now as you wave the cutter through the block, the box will dynamically alter the blade so it automatically cuts the block according to the blueprint.

Similarly, the ultimate joining tool would induce two objects to form atomic bonds where ever they touched. Call it an "atomic bonder". It would be a nice touch if the bonder could reverse the process, causing two joined objects to separate if required. Currently the closest thing we have to that is ultrasonic welding, and that has some severe limitations.

In the modern world, the joke is that you can fix anything using gaffer's tape or WD-40 lubricant spray. The Duct Tape Guys said "Two rules get you through life: If it's stuck and it's not supposed to be, WD-40 it. If it's not stuck and it's supposed to be, duct tape it". Or as @tenbus_uk said "Stop things move as shouldn't, make things move as wouldn't".

You may laugh, but in actuality, every single NASA manned mission starting with the Gemini series has carried a roll of duck tape. This paid off in 1970 when a roll of duct tape helped save the astronaut's lives during the Apollo 13 disaster.


Robert Merrill points out that there are other classes of tools: Diagnostic, Measuring, and Supportive. Diagnostic examples include multimeters and automobile engine timing lights. Measuring include rulers and calipers. Supportive include car jacks and clamps. He also points out that different types of tools are required by different types of workers. Damage Control Teams, Repair Squads, Maintance Crews, Refitters, Installers, and Artificers (never know what you're going to need built on a deep space mission).

Magnetic Wrench, Star Trek "That Which Survives" (1969).

Jo Blocks

As a side note, there are sets of industrial equipment called "Johansson blocks" or "Gauge blocks". They are high-precision unit blocks used to calibrate measuring equipment. When a set of Jo-blocks are created, each block face is lapped to a flatness of about 11 millionths of an inch. As a consequence, the blocks can be induced to cling together by molecular attraction. A light thin oil is applied to exclude air, the blocks are slid together, and a surprisingly strong bond is created. This is called "Wringing-in" or "Jo Blocking."

Mallow had swung the steel sheet onto the two supports with a careless heave. He had taken the instrument held out to him by Twer and was gripping the leather handle inside its leaden sheath.

"The instrument," he said, "is dangerous, but so is a buzz saw. You just have to keep your fingers away."

And as he spoke, he drew the muzzle-slit swiftly down the length of the steel sheet, which quietly and instantly fell in two.

There was a unanimous jump, and Mallow laughed. He picked up one of the halves and propped it against his knee, "You can adjust the cutting-length accurately to a hundredth of an inch, and a two-inch sheet will slit down the middle as easily as this thing did. If you've got the thickness exactly judged, you can place steel on a wooden table, and split the metal without scratching the wood."

And at each phrase, the nuclear shear moved and a gouged chunk of steel flew across the room.

"That," he said, "is whittling - with steel."

He passed back the shear. "Or else you have the plane. Do you want to decrease the thickness of a sheet, smooth out an irregularity, remove corrosion? Watch!"

Thin, transparent foil flew off the other half of the original sheet in six-inch swaths, then eight-inch, then twelve.

"Or drills? It's all the same principle."

They were crowded around now. It might have been a sleight-of-hand show, a comer magician, a vaudeville act made into high-pressure salesmanship. Commdor Asper fingered scraps of steel. High officials of the government tiptoed over each other's shoulders, and whispered, while Mallow punched clean, beautiful round holes through an inch of hard steel at every touch of his nuclear drill.

"Just one more demonstration. Bring two short lengths of pipe, somebody."

An Honorable Chamberlain of something-or-other sprang to obedience in the general excitement and thought-absorption, and stained his hands like any laborer.

Mallow stood them upright and shaved the ends off with a single stroke of the shear, and then joined the pipes, fresh cut to fresh cut.

And there was a single pipe! The new ends, with even atomic irregularities missing, formed one piece upon joining.

Mallow talked through and around his thoughts, "Test that pipe! It's one piece. Not perfect; naturally, the joining shouldn't be done by hand."

From Foundation by Issac Asimov (1951)

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