Standard Gear

There will 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), and a service sidearm. Don't forget your atomic pen.

If the ship has no artificial gravity, you might need some magnetic boots.

Space Angel

Within a block of the spaceport dozens of surplus stores catered to spacers. The end of the War had dumped millions of tons of surplus gear on the market, and the shops had sprung up overnight. Ideal places for a spacer to outfit himself cheaply. Torwald headed toward the most reputable-looking of these establishments.

"First," Torwald said, "something to stash it all in." The proprietor brought a spacebag in the glossy gray-black favored by the Navy toward the end of the War. Torwald's own bag was the more traditional dark blue.

Torwald rubbed his palms together. "Now, some protective gear." He was enjoying this, and Kelly was delighted with the amassing of the specialized equipment of his new trade. They went to a section where protective clothing was hung from racks or mounted on stands, everything from antipersonnel-missile-resistant vests to suits of articulated plates made from hardened ceramic fiber. Torwald picked out a one-piece coverall of armor cloth.

"Is that for stopping bullets?" Kelly asked.

"Well, partly. But, you'll be going places where thorns and fangs and stickers and stingers and the like are deadlier than any bullet. That's what the armor cloth is for, mainly. Do you have a knife?" Kelly took one out of his pocket: a spring-blade model, cheaply produced. "Get rid of it. That's only useful for sticking people. I'll find you a better one." He checked the display case at the front of the shop, finally choosing a heavy-bladed sheath knife and a small folding pocket model with several tools in the handle besides the knife blade. "These'll do just about anything. Besides which, if necessary, you can always stick people with them."

Then Torwald selected cold-weather gear, a wrist chrono and calculator, work gloves, clothing—all the necessities for a spacer's bag. Last of all, Torwald took Kelly to the rear of the shop, where the footwear was kept. They rummaged around for a few minutes while Torwald gave him a running lecture on the virtues of good boots.

"You might not think so, kid, but boots are more important than any other item of a spacer's equipment. That's because you never know when you may be set afoot, or in what terrain, or in what climate." Kelly didn't like the sound of the expression "set afoot."

"Besides," Torwald continued, "a spacer has very little to do with space, any more than a sailor has with water. It's just something to get across to reach the planets, where the jobs are. And on the ground, you need boots. Aha, jackpot!" With that exclamation, he pulled a pair of boots from a bin. "Genuine pre-War unissued Space Marine boots!"

"How can you tell they're pre-War?" Kelly asked, sorting through the bin to find a pair that fit. Torwald turned a boot sole-up.

"See those little threaded holes? That's where they used to screw in the magnetic plates. They haven't used those plates in fifty years, but the Navy required that the mounts be left there in case of equipment failures. When the War came along, they dropped that reg, and a lot of quality, to cut costs. These boots will last you a lifetime."

At the entrance of the shop, Kelly caught sight of himself in a full-length mirror. He saw himself as he had always dreamed, wearing a spacer's coverall and boots. The coverall hung slack from his thin frame, and the effect was that of a boy dressed up to look like a spacer. He still didn't feel like one. Then Kelly noticed Torwald reflected over his shoulder in the mirror, grinning at his self-absorption.

"One thing," Michelle chimed in, "Kelly, take this," , she tossed him a flat metal box, about five centimeters on a side, with a metal chain. "Wear that around your neck at all times from now on. Those are your tracetabs. They contain all the trace elements your body needs. There are about three thousand tabs in that box (8.2 years). If we go on xeno-rations, you'll need them."

Kelly seemed puzzled.

"There are about a thousand planets," Sims explained, "that supply native food edible by humans. On maybe half a dozen of them, all the trace elements necessary for human survival are present in the food."

"If the soil and atmosphere are comparable to Earth's," Michelle continued, "native flora and fauna may give you all the protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins you need, but trace elements can be hard to come by. You'll die just as dead from lack of magnesium, phosphorous, or any number of other elements as from lack of water. If you get stranded on a xenoworld, that box can be your lifeline. Always keep it filled."

From Space Angel by John Maddox Roberts (1979)

Computers and Communicators

(ed note: much of this section was originally written around 1998 or so. Sections that are crossed out like this are bits that have become obsolete since 1998.)

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 1969 1974 1994 1999 2001 2005 vintage Star Trek communicators still don't have a video camera, 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 wrote the previous sentence, before the iPhone had been invented, I 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. Since I wrote that previous sentence, smartphones have transformed into pocket computers which has the secondary feature of also being a communicator. As with the old general purpose desktop and laptop computers, they are more defined by their currently installed software and apps than by the fact they are 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.

And no science fiction story I am aware of predicted that the main use of smart phones would be, not to talk to people, but to run the zillions of "apps" that do a few usefull and lots of useless functions.

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).

(Since I wrote the prior crossed out sections, things have changed. You do not need reference textbooks if you have a link to the ship's subset of the internet. And you do not need a GPS module since practically all smart phones come with one as standard equipment)

For planetary explorers, a very useful function would be a dynamic map, with a indicator showing your current location and other important locales (like where your scoutship is). A GPS app in other words. However, you cannot use a GPS locator unless the scoutship has placed a GPS satellite constellation in orbit. And already mapped the planet from orbit so it can download the map into your smart phone. Without a GPS satellite, the app can only do dead reckoning (which gradually gets more and more inaccurate as the errors compound).

Planetary explorers would also find useful a weather forcasting app. Which would require the scoutship to orbit a weather satellite.

A camera (still and video) with automatic uploading of images to the scoutship is also valuable in a planetary survey. Especially if the interesting animal the scout photographs turns around and eats the scout. The last image might be the interior of the animal's esophagus but at least the warning will reach the ship.

Also useful for scouts is a link to the scoutship's database. If they were on a civilized planet the scouts would just surf Google, Wikipedia, and maybe Yelp; but on an unexplored world the only available parts of the internet are those you bring along with you.

I'm sure if you look over lists of modern-day apps for smartphones, you will get ideas about ones that will be useful for planetary explorers.

Explorer smartphones will have to be MIL-SPEC. Dropping your phone and breaking the glass screen can be fatal, it is too vital for a scout's survival. It will have to be rugged enough to hammer a nail with no damage, and capable of surviving a trip through a large animal's digestive tract (so the other scouts can at least get an idea of what sort of creature ate their fellow crewmember).


Working inside the International Space Station is sometimes like assembling complex furniture but with the tools and paper instructions continually floating out of reach. Astronauts also face situations unforeseen by the instructions. Communication delays with ground control to troubleshoot these occasions mean even more valuable time is lost. Now, ‘mobiPV’ is looking to help. 

Developed by ESA, this ‘mobile procedure viewer’ uses software on an android smartphone that allows astronauts to perform manual tasks hands-free while connecting them in real time to mission control via video, voice and text.

In addition to the smartphone strapped to their wrist, astronauts are equipped with a head-mounted camera, an audio headset, and a tablet as an alternate display option. 

When problems arise, the astronaut can switch on the camera to capture the situation and immediately receive expert feedback from Earth.

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen first tried out mobiPV during NASA’s underwater space simulation in September 2014, and during his mission to the Space Station in September 2015.

Those trials led to fewer cables and a major software redesign to allow multiple ground stations to link to the astronauts. The software was improved again following a July 2016 test by ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer during NASA’s latest aquatic venture. 

With the prospect of saving a significant amount of time, mobiPV will become a standard part of the Space Station. ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will be next to try it out during his mission later this year, after which ESA can offer it to all Station partners.

As with all technology, it will be continually updated based on feedback. Its developers are already looking to add augmented reality headsets for a richer and more efficient experience. 

Space is by no means mobiPV’s final frontier. It needs only an Internet connection and is adaptable to different procedures and environments, making it a lower-cost and easy way of connecting ground controllers to remote teams. Subsea, military and other industries can benefit from the time and cost saved by mobiPV – though there is no word yet on a household version helping with those sets of flatpack furniture. 

Info Pad

Desperately Seeking the Info Pad

     What they want is something that can go with them all the time, and that will function as an extended memory and as a way to capture their ideas. Specifically, they need to capture notes, sketches, and documents; work with databases; and look up information instantly. They need a brain extender, a true information appliance.
     I call it an info pad. That's the product I want someone to build.
     It's larger than a handheld and smaller than a tablet PC. About the size and thickness of a steno pad. It has a touch-sensitive screen on the front, and very few buttons.

(ed note: see illustration above)

     What the product does

     First and foremost, ink. You write on the screen and it captures your notes and drawings. It's as much like writing on a pad of paper as possible, because the thing you're replacing is the paper notepad or journal that students and knowledge workers carry with them all the time.
     When I say "ink" I mean literally ink – put pixels exactly where the user touches the pen. Tablet PC converts pen strokes to quadratic b-splines, which is mathspeak for curved lines. That process subtly changes the letter forms, smoothing and altering them. It uses a lot of computing power (meaning it needs a faster processor and bigger batteries), and it seems to introduce a slight delay to the interface. You feel like you're using the stylus to push lines around on the screen rather than just writing and forgetting about the computer. I know some people like it, but I found it maddening.
     One of the most important features of the info pad is something it doesn't do: handwriting recognition. Most of the note-taking devices that companies have tried to make over the years, from Newton to Tablet PC, make on-screen handwriting recognition a marquee feature. Your handwriting turns into printed text. That's a logical feature to pursue if you're an engineer; character recognition is an elegant way to bridge the gap between human and computer. It frees us from the tyranny of the keyboard.
     The only problem is, it doesn't work.
     Or maybe a better way to put it would be, it almost works. It's just good enough to get people to try it, creating the expectation that it'll be as foolproof as using a keyboard. But then a few words get garbled, you start going back and trying to correct things, and suddenly you're spending more time managing the device than doing your work.
     This is deadly. It's also unnecessary. The purpose of our device is to let you capture your own ideas and information, so you can refer back to it later. In this context, character recognition is useless. You can read your own handwriting. Just capture ink, do a great job of making that effortless, and punt the rest. You may not get written up in Scientific American, but you'll sell a heck of a lot more product.
     Okay, so now we're writing on the screen. We've replaced two incredibly useful and inexpensive tools, pen and paper, with something more expensive and less flexible. What's the benefit? A couple of things.
     First, our device is an endless notebook. You can keep all your notes in it. Forever. For your entire life. This won't seem like a big deal to a 20 year old, but after you've been in business for a while, there comes a time when you remember a meeting you had a year ago when you heard something brilliant and relevant to the issue at hand. You know you wrote it down, but you also know it's in an old notebook that you filled up and stored in the garage somewhere. Forget about finding it – you might as well have never taken the notes in the first place.
     If you have an info pad, that need never happen again. We'll compress and store all your notes, permanently.
     What's more, we're going to sync the device to your calendar and address book. So it'll know when and where you took the notes, and if the meeting had an attendee list you'll know who was there as well. You can then use all this information to look up old notes.
     This mimics the way people remember things, through associations. You'll remember that the meeting was at a particular conference, or that someone specific was in the room, or that it was the same month as your trip to Mexico. With notes that are cross-referenced with your calendar and contacts, you can browse just the ones that you took at that time, or with that person, or in that location. You may have to look through a few pages, but we should be able to narrow the search enough that it'll be pretty easy to find what you need.
     I said earlier that we won't use handwriting recognition in the device, but I exaggerated. There is one useful task for handwriting recognition in an info pad: indexing. In the background, without pointing it out to the user, the info pad will attempt to recognize the user's notes, in order to build an index to them. The recognized text will never be shown to the user, so we don't have to worry about how many words are misspelled. Recognition that's only 80% or 90% effective is useless for writing a memo, but good enough to create a fantastic index.
     The killer app in an info pad isn't the note-taking, it's the lookup and indexing functions. This produces one simple benefit for a user: If you write something down in an info pad, you'll never forget it again.
     I don't know about you, but in my information-overloaded life, that would be golden.

     The personal archive. The other primary task of an info pad is storing and displaying documents and databases. People in information-heavy jobs typically have documents, files, or reports that they may need to refer to during the day. We'll make it easy for the user to identify those documents, whether they're on the user's PC or on the Internet, and then we'll keep them synced so the user always has the latest version.
     This archive of documents can be quite rich if the user wants it to be. Storage capacity on mobile devices has been growing explosively. We're kind of blase about that, maybe because storage capacity is even higher on PCs. But even a few gigs of storage can hold an amazing amount of information. For example, one gigabyte could hold the uncompressed text from about 2,800 novels. With compression, you could easily double that, if not a lot more. So we're talking the text of at least 5,000 novels, which is one a week for every week of your life if you live to be 96. That's more text than most people will read in their lives.
     What would our information-hungry, memory-extending user do with all that storage? I'm not sure, but one thing I'd do is carry an archive of all my e-mails. Every e-mail I've ever sent. Incoming and outgoing, personal and business. Not the enclosures (they're too large), but the text. It would be great to be able to also capture snapshots of Web articles that I want to refer back to in the future. Make all of this indexed and searchable just like the notes. So this is another part of my life where I'll never forget anything.

     Sketching. I do think we should put basic sketching functionality in the info pad, though. It may not a Moleskine replacement in version one, but it should let users create simple sketches and drawings easily. That's a part of note-taking.

     Size. 9" high, 6" wide, 1" thick (23cm x 15cm x 2.5cm). If you can make it thinner, all the better. The info pad does not fit in your pocket; it goes in your bag or on your desk. Basically, it lives wherever your paper notebook lives today.
     Weight. The weight of a thick paperback book – 16 ounces or less (450 grams). This would be far too much for a phone or handheld, but this is a different device. You won't be holding it up to your face.
     Screen. High resolution grayscale, very high contrast ratio, touch sensitive. Color is optional – color screens generally have larger pixels and lower contrast ratios, making them harder to read. I think some people are going to disagree about color, but it's not essential to note-taking or document reading. (Think about it – how many of us carry colored pens or pencils so we can take notes in color?)
     The ideal screen technology would be the e-ink displays being used in Sony's and Philips' new e-book products. I've seen e-ink technology in person, and it's stunning – the whites are very white, and the blacks are pretty darned black. It looks like a photocopied sheet of paper. It's very hard to see in photographs how much better the screens look; you have to see them in person. To me, as an old-time printing guy, they were breathtaking.
     Unfortunately, e-ink screens have a huge drawback – latency. They work by physically driving tiny black particles to the front or back of a white liquid. This takes a lot more time than flipping on and off a liquid crystal pixel.
     This is very visible in Sony's e-book reader – when you flip the page, it visibly turns all black, then all white, then draws the new page. It's like the flicker you get from a bad video edit, and just as annoying. This is acceptable in an e-book, where the pages don't change often. But it eliminates the possibility of doing anything interactive, like drawing or writing.
     When I was investigating the info pad idea last summer, I talked to someone deeply involved in e-ink technology. The sad message was that it'll be at least two more product generations before they can flip pixels fast enough for effective note-taking – and that will happen only if some potential customer pushes them to do it. Right now the push is for other features -- the biggest demand for e-ink displays right now is for advertising signs that can be changed when needed, and high latency is acceptable there.
     So for version one of the info pad, I think our first choice is a very high-resolution, high-contrast grayscale LCD screen. I've seen some beautiful ones in Japan, so I know they exist.
     Battery life. It needs to run all day with heavy usage (assume eight hours of meetings or classes). That's one of the reasons I specified the thickness at one inch. I think the customer would accept a little more thickness to get a device that can run all day long.
     Slots. One SD, one PCMCIA. The SD slot is for adding extra memory. This lets our base device be less expensive. The PCMCIA slot is for a cellular wireless card, if the user wants it. It would add a lot of cost to build a cellular radio into the info pad, and more to the point we'd then have to create separate devices for separate network standards, and sell through the carriers. Been there, done that, want none of it.
     Built-in wireless. Mandatory: Bluetooth. Not so much to talk to other devices, but for syncing with the user's PC. Cradles are a pain in the butt for a manufacturer. They're inevitably expensive, and the connector is subject to all sorts of breakage and other problems. Instead we ship the device with Bluetooth built in, and a small USB Bluetooth dongle that the user can attach to his or her PC. Then we can buy a nice cheap standardized power supply that plugs into the info pad.
     Optional: WiFi. If we can afford it, we should have WiFi built into the device, just so no one complains about it being missing. But keep in mind that this is a note-taking appliance, not a PC. WiFi isn't essential to the core operation of the device.
     Camera. Built-in one megapixel camera. The lens is on the back or front edge of the info pad. Why build in a camera? Because it helps with note-taking – you can take pictures of notes on a whiteboard, and you can take pictures of pages in a book or magazine. No more time wasted jotting down things from a whiteboard, or copying quotes out of a book for a research paper.
     Built in applications. Note-taker, document viewer, calendar, contacts, to-do, calculator, search. That's it.

From Desperately Seeking the Info Pad by Michael Mace (2006)


A Tricorder is one of the many iconic gizmos created for the original Star Trek TV show that have captured the imagination of science fiction fans. When exploring an alien planet, Captain Kirk will have a phaser weapon, Doctor McCoy will have his medikit, but Mr. Spock will always have his trusty tricorder. Because science.

A tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data. The word "tricorder" is an abbreviation of the device's full name, the "TRI-function reCORDER", referring to the device's primary functions; Sensing, Computing and Recording.

In other words, it is a smart phone with a sensor array and lots of RAM. As with all smart phones it will have lots of apps.

However, nowadays everything is all about The Cloud. When you record something, you don't store it locally in your device's RAM, you upload it to the Cloud. Which means nowadays Mr. Spock would be carrying around a Triloader, not a Tricorder.

Well, maybe not. For space explorers on a newly-discovered planet the only available cloud server is probably on the spacecraft they arrived in. Which means no uploading if the tricorder in question is out of contact range or if the spacecraft has exploded or something. There are some advantages to local data storage. Cloud computing seems more suited for the more civilized places in the galaxy, while tricorders have many applications in the more uncivilized areas.

Sensor Array

Like all smart phones, the tricorder will have a still/video camera, and a microphone.

Other sensors could include:

Tricorder sensor arrays might incorporate sensors used by spacecraft remote-sensing suites:


An international team of researchers has developed a proof of concept for a working hand-held chemical scanner. In their paper published in the journal Nano Letters, the team describes their ideas and their belief that they will have a working model within five years and a device for sale within 10.

Science fiction has featured characters wielding hand-held chemical scanning devices for years, but in the real world, that has hardly been the case—mass spectrometers and MRI machines are big and bulky, and not likely to be carted into the field for on-the-spot testing. But that may change over the next few years as the researchers with this new effort describe plans for a scanner small enough to be carried in the hand—a diamond-based quantum device that borrows technology from atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors.

To create their device, they are looking at ways to take advantage of the development of nanomechanical sensors and quantum nanosensors—they describe the mass spectrometry part of their device as making use of the mass changes that occur when a molecule attaches to a diamond defect. Creating the rest of the device, they report, involves surveying current devices and then looking at ways of miniaturizing them to the point that they can be included on one or a small number of chips.

To that end, they have outlined principles for implementing nanomechanical sensing using nanospin-mechanical sensors in such a device and have also been assessing the potential for mass spectrometry and force microscopy in an extremely small space, compared to those that exist today. Such a device, they suggest, could be easily commercialized. They are now at the stage of building a prototype.

The team describes their future device as a tool for use by people in laboratories who do not have the funds to buy today's bulky machines. They suggest it could also prove useful to environmental researchers in the field. The device would have biosecurity applications and as a chemical scanner that could be used by doctors to perform tests on patients in their comfort of their office. It would provide analytical power at the nanoscale, they claim, in ways that have never been seen before.

(ed note: from paper Nanomechanical sensing using spins in diamond)


Now Stanford electrical engineers have taken the latest step toward developing such a device through experiments detailed in Applied Physics Letters and presented at the International Ultrasonics Symposium in Taipei, Taiwan.

The work, led by Assistant Professor Amin Arbabian and Research Professor Pierre Khuri-Yakub, grows out of research designed to detect buried plastic explosives, but the researchers said the technology could also provide a new way to detect early stage cancers.

The careful manipulation of two scientific principles drives both the military and medical applications of the Stanford work.

First, all materials expand and contract when stimulated with electromagnetic energy, such as light or microwaves. Second, this expansion and contraction produces ultrasound waves that travel to the surface and can be detected remotely.

The basic principle of this interaction was first revealed in 1880 when Alexander Graham Bell was experimenting with wireless transmission of sound via light beams. Bell used light to make sound emanate from a receiver made of carbon black, which replicated a musical tone.

The Stanford engineers built on the principles demonstrated in Bell's experiment to develop a device to "hear" hidden objects.

Proof of principle

The new work was spurred by a challenge posed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), best known for sponsoring the studies that led to the Internet. DARPA sought to develop a system to detect plastic explosives buried underground – improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – that are currently invisible to metal detectors. The task included one important caveat: The detection device could not touch the surface in question, so as not to trigger an explosion.

All materials expand and contract when heated, but not at identical rates. Ground, especially muddy ground soaked with water, absorbs more heat than plastic.

In a potential battlefield application, the microwaves would heat the suspect area, causing the muddy ground to expand and thus squeeze the plastic. Pulsing the microwaves would generate a series of ultrasound pressure waves that could be detected and interpreted to disclose the presence of buried plastic explosives.

Sound waves propagate differently in solids than air, with a drastic transmission loss occurring when sound jumps from the solid to air. That's why, for instance, ultrasound images of babies in utero must be taken through direct contact with the skin.

The Stanford team accommodated for this loss by building capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducers, or CMUTs, that can specifically discern the weaker ultrasound signals that jumped from the solid, through the air, to the detector.

"What makes the tricorder the Holy Grail of detection devices is that the instrument never touches the subject," Arbabian said. "All the measurements are made though the air, and that's where we've made the biggest strides."

Solving the technical challenges of detecting ultrasound after it left the ground gave the Stanford researchers the experience to take aim at their ultimate goal – using the device in medical applications without touching the skin.

Touchless ultrasound

Arbabian's team then used brief microwave pulses to heat a flesh-like material that had been implanted with a sample "target." Holding the device from about a foot away, the material was heated by a mere thousandth of a degree, well within safety limits.

Yet even that slight heating caused the material to expand and contract – which, in turn, created ultrasound waves that the Stanford team was able to detect to disclose the location of the target, all without touching the "flesh," just like the Star Trek tricorder.

Real-world Tricorders

There are numerous toys and props that simulate a Star Trek tricorder (in its many incarnations in the various Trek TV shows). But the state of the art has advanced enough that many people are attempting to make actual functional instruments. Companies are permitted to call such devices a "tricorder" because Gene Roddenberry's contract included a clause allowing any company able to create functioning technology to use the name.

In 1996 Vital Technologies Corporation sold a device they called the "Official Star-Trek Tricorder Mark 1". They managed to market about 10,000 of them before going bankrupt. The unit had an "Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Meter", "Two-Mode Weather Station" (thermometer and barometer), "Colorimeter" (no wavelength given), "Light meter", and "Stardate Clock and Timer" (a clock and timer).

In 2008 the biotech firm QuantuMDx released details of their handheld DNA lab Q-POC for developing countries, which could diagnose a variety of illnesses with one drop of the patient's blood and only 15 minutes analysis time. In their 2014 crowdfunding camapaign they solicited names for the device, naturally everybody suggested "Tricorder."

In 2008 researchers from Georgia Tech announced their portable hand-held multi-spectral imaging device, and the next day several tech blogs were calling the device a "Tricorder".

In 2009 engineers developed an ultrasound scanner that connects to a smartphone via usb port. The phone acts as the display screen.

As far back as 2009 NASA had been looking into creating sensors that would plug into an iPhone to make a tricorder-like instrument. The prototype sensor module was only able to detect and identify low concentrations of airborne ammonia, chlorine gas and methane; but hey, it's a start.

In 2011 the X Prize Foundation announced with Qualcomm Incorporated the Tricorder X Prize. The constest is to develop a medical mobile device that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board certified physicians. There is a a US$7 million Grand Prize, US$2 million Second Prize, and US$1 million Third Prize. The winning entry must be an automatic non-invasive health diagnostics packaged into a single portable device that weighs no more than 2.3 kg, able to diagnose over a dozen medical conditions, including whooping cough, hypertension, mononucleosis, shingles, melanoma, HIV, and osteoporosis. There are currently about ten finalists.

In 2012, Dr. Peter Jansen announced having developed an open-source handheld mobile computing device modeled after the design of the tricorder. His early designs can be found here, the current project (Arducorder Mini tricorder) can be found here.

Dr. Jansen's science tricorder mark 2 has sensors to measure atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure; magnetometer, colorimeter, non-contact IR thermometer, ambient light level, GPS position, ultrasonic distance measurement, accelerometer, and gyroscope intertial measurement.

Dr. Jansen's Arducorder Mini tricorder has sensors for atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure; a multi-gas sensor (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ethanol, hydrogen, ammonia, methane, propane, and iso-butane), 3-axis magnetometer, ambient light level, x-ray and gamma-ray detector, low-res thermal camera, polarimeter, ultraviolet detector, spectrometer, 3-axis accelerometer, and a microphone. It can also stream the data over wifi to an online server.

I want one. And so does RocketCat.

AntiRadiation Gear

If the spacecraft is atomic powered, radiation dosimeters will be a standard part of a rocketeer's uniform. This monitors the crewperson's exposure to radiation from nuclear rocket engines, nuclear power generators, and exploding nuclear warheads. The ship's doctor, medical corpsman, or radiation officer will be in charge of recording the readings and referring the crewperson for medical attention if their cumulative dose climbs too high.

The crew may or may not wear another dosimeter optimized to measure exposure to galactic cosmic rays and solar proton storms.

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.

The StemRad corporation manufactures personal protective equipment (PPE) for ionizing radiation. In July 2015 it was announced that StemRad would be partnering with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to develop personal radiation protection for astronauts.

A lead-lined suit with enough Tenth Value Thickness multiples to protect a crewperson would be so massive that they couldn't move. In a gravity field or under acceleration they would lie helpless on the ground like an upside down turtle. In freefall they would spend lots of time and muscle to get up to speed. Then they discover the hard way it takes just as much time and muscle to brake to a halt as they fail to stop from smashing into a bulkhead.

StemRad figures if you cannot stop the radiation, the next best thing is to allow the poor person's body regenerate the damage (before they die). The human tissue which does this best is the bone marrow, which unfortunately very radiation sensitive. So where is the largest concentration of bone marrow? Why, the hip bone of course (a fact well known to anybody who has donated bone marrow).

Therefore the StemRad 360 Gamma antiradiation vest only protects the hips.

According to StemRad's data sheets, the StemRad 360 Gamma can increase the LD50 dosage from 4 Grays to 10 Grays. An increase factor of 2.5 is nothing to sneeze at. To further reduce the mass of the vest the protective material varies in thickness to account for pelvic bone marrow depth and the natural attunation properties of human tissue.


"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).


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.

"One thing," Michelle chimed in, "Kelly, take this," , she tossed him a flat metal box, about five centimeters on a side, with a metal chain. "Wear that around your neck at all times from now on. Those are your tracetabs. They contain all the trace elements your body needs. There are about three thousand tabs in that box (8.2 years). If we go on xeno-rations, you'll need them."

Kelly seemed puzzled.

"There are about a thousand planets," Sims explained, "that supply native food edible by humans. On maybe half a dozen of them, all the trace elements necessary for human survival are present in the food."

"If the soil and atmosphere are comparable to Earth's," Michelle continued, "native flora and fauna may give you all the protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins you need, but trace elements can be hard to come by. You'll die just as dead from lack of magnesium, phosphorous, or any number of other elements as from lack of water. If you get stranded on a xenoworld, that box can be your lifeline. Always keep it filled."

From Space Angel by John Maddox Roberts (1979)

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.

Nonstandard Gear

Lie Detector

A lie detector is a jolly science fiction gadget which often comes in handy. I say "science fiction" because they don't exist in the real world. This is because that hoary old lie detector called the "polygraph" is utterly worthless. In science fiction, the concept dates back at least as far as G K Chesterton's 1913 story "The Mistake of the Machine".

And obviously a working lie detector cannot detect a lie uttered by a person who truly believes the lie is truth. Because as far as the person is concerned it isn't a lie at all. It is also sometimes possible for people to circumvent the lie detector by telling literal but misleading truths (example: "The Best Policy" by Randall Garrett).

A related concept is truth compeller (interfering with the subject's ability to deceive). And in the real world so-called Truth Serums have not been proven to be more reliable than a placebo.


In one huge room, ballroom or concertroom or something, there were prisoners herded, and men from the Nemesis were setting up polyencaphalographic veridicators, sturdy chairs with wires and adjustable helmets and translucent globes mounted over them. A couple of Morland's men were hustling a People's Watchman to one and strapping him into a chair.

"You know what this is, don't you?" one of them was saying. "This is a veridicator. That globe'll light blue; the moment you try to lie to us, it'll turn red. And the moment it turns red, I'm going to hammer your teeth down your throat with the butt of this pistol."

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1962)

     "Why, thank you, Mr. Stenson." He shook hands with the old master instrument maker. "If you could make me a pocket veridicator, to use on some of these people who claim they saw them, it would be a big help."
     "Well, I do make rather small portable veridicators for the constabulary, but I think what you need is an instrument for detection of psychopaths, and that's slightly beyond science at present."

     Piet Dumont, the Mallorysport chief of police, might have been a good cop once, but for as long as Gus Brannhard had known him, he had been what he was now--an empty shell of unsupported arrogance, with a sagging waistline and a puffy face that tried to look tough and only succeeded in looking unpleasant. He was sitting in a seat that looked like an old fashioned electric chair, or like one of those instruments of torture to which beauty-shop customers submit themselves. There was a bright conical helmet on his head, and electrodes had been clamped to various portions of his anatomy. On the wall behind him was a circular screen which ought to have been a calm turquoise blue, but which was flickering from dark blue through violet to mauve. That was simple nervous tension and guilt and anger at the humiliation of being subjected to veridicated interrogation. Now and then there would be a stabbing flicker of bright red as he toyed mentally with some deliberate misstatement of fact.

     "You know, yourself, that the Fuzzies didn't hurt that girl," Brannhard told him.
     "I don't know anything of the kind," the police chief retorted. "All I know's what was reported to me."
     That had started out a bright red; gradually it faded into purple. Evidently Piet Dumont was adopting a rules-of-evidence definition of truth.
     "Who told you about it?"
     "Luther Woller. Detective lieutenant on duty at the time."
     The veridicator agreed that that was the truth and not much of anything but the truth.
     "But you know that what really happened was that Lurkin beat the girl himself, and Woller persuaded them both to say the Fuzzies did it," Max Fane said.
     "I don't know anything of the kind!" Dumont almost yelled. The screen blazed red. "All I know's what they told me; nobody said anything else." Red and blue, juggling in a typical quibbling pattern. "As far as I know, it was the Fuzzies done it."
     "Now, Piet," Fane told him patiently. "You've used this same veridicator here often enough to know you can't get away with lying on it. Woller's making you the patsy for this, and you know that, too. Isn't it true, now, that to the best of your knowledge and belief those Fuzzies never touched that girl, and it wasn't till Woller talked to Lurkin and his daughter at headquarters that anybody even mentioned Fuzzies?"
     The screen darkened to midnight blue, and then, slowly, it lightened.
     "Yeah, that's true," Dumont admitted. He avoided their eyes, and his voice was surly.

     When the deputy marshal touched his shoulder and spoke to him, he didn't think, at first, that his legs would support him. It seemed miles, with all the staring faces on either side of him. Somehow, he reached the chair and sat down, and they fitted the helmet over his head and attached the electrodes. They used to make a witness take some kind of an oath to tell the truth. They didn't any more. They didn't need to.

     As soon as the veridicator was on, he looked up at the big screen behind the three judges; the globe above his head was a glaring red. There was a titter of laughter. Nobody in the Courtroom knew better than he what was happening. He had screens in his laboratory that broke it all down into individual patterns—the steady pulsing waves from the cortex, the alpha and beta waves; beta-aleph and beta-beth and beta-gimel and beta-daleth. The thalamic waves. He thought of all of them, and of the electromagnetic events which accompanied brain activity. As he did, the red faded and the globe became blue. He was no longer suppressing statements and substituting other statements he knew to be false. If he could keep it that way. But, sooner or later, he knew, he wouldn't be able to.

From LITTLE FUZZY by H. Beam Piper (1962)

(ed note: in the novel, it turns out that Terra is actually a ten-thousand year old long-lost colony of The Fourth Imperium. The imperials are trying to unify Terra before the dreaded Achuultani genocide fleet arrives and nukes Terra into a smooth radioactive glassy sphere. The nation of China is reluctant to join, but instead of China being put under direction of an Imperial, it is instead assigned to Chinese grand marshal Tsien. Who uses Imperial lie-detector technology to great effect when putting down the local guerrillas.)

In a sense, Hatcher's injuries had been very much to their advantage. If any other member of the chiefs of staff was his equal in every way, it was Tsien. They were very different; Tsien lacked Hatcher's ease with people and the flair which made exquisitely choreographed operations seem effortless, but he was tireless, analytical, eternally self-possessed, and as inexorable as a Juggernaut yet flexibly pragmatic. He'd streamlined their organization, moved their construction and training schedules ahead by almost a month, and—most importantly of all—stamped out the abortive guerrilla war in Asia with a ruthlessness Hatcher himself probably could not have displayed.

Horus had been more than a little horrified at the way Tsien went about it He hadn’t worried about taking armed resisters prisoner, and those he'd taken had been summarily court-martialed and executed usually within twenty-four hours. His reaction teams had been everywhere, filling Horus with the fear that Hatcher had made a rare and terrible error in recommending him as his replacement. There'd been an elemental implacability about the huge Chinese, one that made Horus wonder if he even cared who was innocent and who guilty.

Yet he'd made himself wait, and time had proved the wisdom of his decision. Ruthless and implacable, yes, and also a man tormented by shame; Tsien had been those things, for it had been his officers who had betrayed their trust. But he'd been just as ruthlessly just. Every individual caught in his nets had been sorted out under an Imperial lie detector, and the innocent were freed as quickly as they had been apprehended. Nor had he permitted any unnecessary brutality to taint his actions or those of his men.

Even more importantly, perhaps, he was no "Westerner" punishing patriots who had struck back against occupation but their own commander-in-chief, acting with the full support of Party and government, and no one reputation, and the fact that he had been selected to replace the wounded Hatcher, had done more to cement Asian support of the new government and military than anything else ever could have.

Within two weeks, all attacks had ended. Within a month, there was no more guerrilla movement. Every one of its leaders had been apprehended and executed; none were imprisoned.

Nor had the chilling message been lost upon the rest of the world. Horus had agonized over the brutal suppression of the African riots, but Tsien's lesson had gone home. There was still unrest, but the world's news channels had carried live coverage of the trials and executions, and outbursts of open violence had ended almost overnight.


     “Yes, Colonel?” Ann Chang’s amplified voice filled the room (from the speakerphone). “What can we do for you?”
     “We need a full shipping schedule as soon as possible,” Falkenberg said. “All space traffic from now through the end of the year.”
     “Of—of course, Colonel. But you know not all traffic is scheduled—”
     “Yes, of course,” Falkenberg said impatiently.
     Captain Rottermill frowned and reached under the table for his briefcase.
     “I’ll send you a copy of everything we have at the moment. If you’ll wait just a moment. It’ll take a few minutes to search the files.”
     Rottermill set his briefcase on the table in front of him and lifted out a small plastic box. He pressed a switch on it and placed it facing Falkenberg’s speakerphone.
     “We can wait,” Falkenberg said. He glanced at Rottermill and raised one eyebrow. Rottermill nodded curtly.
     “Colonel, the computers are doing odd things with the data base,” Ann Chang said. “Let—let me call you back, please.”
     Falkenberg glanced at Rottermill. The intelligence officer nodded again. “Very well,” Falkenberg said. “We really do need that schedule. We’ll wait for your call.”
     “Thank you, Colonel,” Ann Chang said. “It’ll be just a few minutes. I appreciate your patience—”
     “Not at all. Goodbye.” Falkenberg punched the off button, looked to make sure the connection was broken, and looked back to Rottermill. “Well?”
     Rottermill turned the Voice Stress Analyzer so that Falkenberg could see the readout. A line of X’s reached far into the red zone. “Colonel, she’s scared stiff.”
     “What put you onto her?” Ian Frazer asked.
     Rottermill shrugged. “Do enough interrogations and you get a feel for it. Mind you, this isn’t certain. That damn scrambler could affect the patterns. But I’ll bet dinner for a week that woman’s hiding something. Three days’ dinners it’s something to do with shipping schedules.”
     Jeremy Savage laughed. “Rottermill, I doubt anyone will take your bets no matter how you dress them up. I certainly won’t.”

From PRINCE OF MERCENARIES by Jerry Pournelle (1989)

(ed note: the Stainless Steel Rat has infiltrated an enemy base, disguised as an officer named Vaska. Suddenly the base's security officer wants to question all the officers under a lie detector.)

     “You officers, the few among you who were sober enough that is, may have heard an explosion and seen a cloud of smoke while you were on the way here. This explosion was caused by an individual who entered this base and is still undetected in our midst. We know nothing about him, but suspect that he is an offworld spy…”
     This drew a gasp and a murmur as might be expected and the gray man waited a moment until he continued.
     “We are making an intensive search for this individual. Since you gentlemen were in the immediate vicinity I am going to talk to you one at a time to find out what you might know. I also may discover … which one of you is the missing spy.”
     This last shaft exacted only a shocked silence. Now that he had everyone in the right mental condition for cross-examining the gray man began calling officers forward one at a time. I was doubly grateful for the foresight that had dropped me off the truck onto the side of my head.

     It was no accident that I was the third man called forward. On what grounds? General resemblance in build to the offworld spy Pas Ratunkowy? My delayed arrival at Glupost? The bandage? Some basis of suspicion must have existed. I dragged forward with slow speed just as the others had done. I saluted and he pointed to the chair next to the desk.
     “Why don’t you hold this while we talk,” he said in a reasonable voice, passing over the silver egg of a polygraph transmitter.
     The real Vaska would not have recognized it, so I didn’t. I just looked at it with slight interest—as though I did not know it was transmitting vital information to the lie detector before him—and clutched it in my hand. My thoughts were not as calm.
     I’m caught! He has me! He knows who I am and is just toying with me!
     He looked deep into my bloodshot eyes and I detected a slight curl of distaste to his mouth.
     “You have had quite a night of it. Lieutenant Hulja,” he said quietly, his eyes on the sheaf of papers—and on the lie detector readout as well.
     “Yes sir, you know … having a few last drinks with the boys.” That was what I said aloud. What I thought was ‘They will shoot me, dead, right through the heart!’ and I could visualize that vital organ spouting my life’s blood into the dirt.
     “I see you recently had your rank reduced—and where are your fuses, Pas Ratunkowy?” Am I tired … wish I was in the sack I thought.
     “Fuses, sir?” I blinked my red orbs and reached to scratch my head and touched the bandage and thought better of it. His eyes glared into mine, gray eyes almost the color of his uniform, and for a moment I caught the strength and anger behind his quiet manners.
     “And your head wound—where did you get that? Our offworld spy was struck on the side of the head.”
     “I fell, sir, someone must have pushed me. Out of the truck. The soldiers bandaged it, ask them …”
     “I already have. Drunk and falling down and a disgrace to the officer corps. Get away and clean yourself up, you disgust me. Next man.”
     I climbed unsteadily to my feet, not looking into the steady glare of those cold eyes, and stared off as though I had forgotten the device in my hand, then turned back and dropped it on his desk, but he was bent over the papers and ignoring me. I could see a faint scar under the thin hair of his balding crown. I left.

     Fooling a polygraph takes skill, practice and training. All of which I had. It can only be done in certain circumstances and this one had been ideal. A sudden interview without normalizing tests being run on the subject. Therefore I began the interview in a near panic—before any questions had been asked. All of this must have peaked nicely on his graph. I was afraid. Of him, of something, anything. But when he had asked the loaded question meant to uncover a spy—the question I knew was coming—I had relaxed and the readout had shown this. The question was a meaningless one to anyone but the offworlder. Once he saw this the interview was over, he had plenty more to do.

From THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT'S REVENGE by Harry Harrison (1970)

The whole thing was connected, of course, with their top-secret psionic machines. There was one of those—a supposedly very advanced type of mind-reader, as a matter of fact—about which she could get detailed first-hand information without going farther than the Bank of Rienne. And she might learn something from that which would fill in the picture for her.

The machine was used by Transcluster Finance, the giant central bank which regulated the activities of major financial houses on more than half the Federation’s worlds, and wielded more actual power than any dozen planetary governments. In the field of financial ethics, Transcluster made and enforced its own laws. Huge sums of money were frequently at stake in disputes among its associates, and machines of presumably more than human incorruptibility and accuracy were therefore employed to help settle conflicting charges and claims.

Two members of the Bank of Rienne’s legal staff who specialized in ethics hearings were pleased to learn of Telzey’s scholarly interest in their subject. They explained the proceedings in which the psionic Verifier was involved at considerable length. In operation, the giant telepath could draw any information pertinent to a hearing from a human mind within minutes. A participant who wished to submit his statements to verification was left alone in a heavily shielded chamber. He sensed nothing, but his mind became for a time a part of the machine’s circuits. He was then released from the chamber, and the Verifier reported what it had found to the adjudicators of the hearing. The report was accepted as absolute evidence; it could not be questioned.

Rienne’s attorneys felt that the introduction of psionic verification had in fact brought about a noticeable improvement in ethical standards throughout Transcluster’s vast finance web. Of course it was possible to circumvent the machines. No one was obliged to make use of them; and in most cases, they were instructed to investigate only specific details of thought and memory indicated to them to confirm a particular claim. This sometimes resulted in a hearing decision going to the side which most skillfully presented the evidence in its favor for verification, rather than to the one which happened to be in the right. A Verifier was, after all, a machine and ignored whatever was not covered by its instructions, even when the mind it was scanning contained additional information with a direct and obvious bearing on the case. This had been so invariably demonstrated in practice that no reasonable person could retain the slightest qualms on the point. To further reassure those who might otherwise hesitate to permit a mind-reading machine to come into contact with them, all records of a hearing were erased from the Verifier’s memory as soon as the case was closed.

And that, Telzey thought, did in a way fill in the picture. There was no evidence that Transcluster’s Verifiers operated in the way they were assumed to be operating—except that for fifteen years, through innumerable hearings, they had consistently presented the appearance of being able to operate in no other manner. But the descriptions she’d been given indicated they were vaster and presumably far more complex instruments than the Customs machine at the Orado City space terminal; and from that machine—supposedly no telepath at all—an imperceptible psionic finger had flicked out, as she passed, to plant a knot of compulsive suggestions in her mind.

So what were the Verifiers doing?

From UNDERCURRENTS by James Schmitz (1964)

(ed note: Bigoted old bitty Mrs. Donahue wants to stir up trouble for the owner of the Star Beast, so she is lying her ass off telling falsehoods in court.)

     "Mrs. Donahue, tell us what happened."
     She sniffed. " Well! I was lying down, trying to snatch a few minutes rest; I have so many responsibilities, clubs and charitable committees and things.
     Greenberg was watching the truth meter over her head. The needle wobble restlessly, but did not kick over into the red enough to set off the warning buzzer.
     "When suddenly I was overcome with a nameless dread."
     The needle swung far into the red, a ruby light flashed and the buzzer gave out a loud rude noise. Somebody started to giggle. Greenberg said hastily, "Order in the court."

From THE STAR BEAST by Robert Heinlein (1954)

      Kelly stopped at a plain gray door, rapped once, then took Holden inside a small compartment with a table and two uncomfortable-looking chairs. A dark-haired man was setting up a recorder. He waved one hand vaguely in the direction of a chair. Holden sat. The chair was even less comfortable than it looked.
     “You can go, Mr. Kelly," the man Holden assumed was Lopez said. Kelly left and closed the door.
     When Lopez had finished, he sat down across the table from Holden and reached out one hand. Holden shook it.
     “I’m Lieutenant Lopez. Kelly probably told you that. I work for naval intelligence, which he almost certainly didn’t tell you. My job isn’t secret, but they train jarheads to be tight-lipped."

     Lopez reached into his pocket, took out a small packet of white lozenges, and popped one into his mouth. He didn't offer one to Holden. Lopez's pupils contracted to tiny points as he sucked the lozenge. Focus drugs. He’d be watching every tic of Holden's face during questioning. Tough to lie to.

     “First Lieutenant James R. Holden, of Montana," he said. It wasn’t a question.
     “Yes, sir," Holden said anyway.
     “Seven years in the UNN, last posting on the destroyer Zhang Fei."
     “That’s me."
     “Your file says you were busted out for assaulting a superior officer," Lopez said. “That’s pretty cliché, Holden. You punched the old man? Seriously?"
     “No. I missed. Broke my hand on a bulkhead."
     “How’d that happen?"
     “He was quicker than I expected," Holden replied.
     “Why'd you try?"
     “I was projecting my self-loathing onto him. It’s just a stroke of luck that I actually wound up hurting the right person," Holden said.

     “Sounds like you've thought about it some since then," Lopez said, his pinprick pupils never moving from Holden's face. “Therapy?”
     “Lots of time to think on the Canterbury," Holden replied.
     Lopez ignored the obvious opening and said, “What did you come up with, during all that thinking?"
     “The Coalition has been stepping on the necks of the people out here for over a hundred years now. I didn’t like being the boot."
     “An OPA sympathizer, then?" Lopez said, his expression not changing at all.
     “No. I didn’t switch sides. I stopped playing. I didn't renounce my citizenship. I like Montana. I’m out here because I like flying, and only a Belter rust trap like the Canterbury will hire me."
     Lopez smiled for the first time. “You’re an exceedingly honest man, Mr. Holden."

     “Why did you claim that a Martian military vessel destroyed your ship? "
     “I didn’t. I explained all that in the broadcast. It had technology only available to inner planet fleets, and I found a piece of MCRN hardware in the device that tricked us into stopping."
     “We’ll want to see that."
     “You’re welcome to it."
     “Your file says you were the only child of a family co-op," Lopez said, acting as though they’d never stopped talking about Holden’s past.
     “Yes, five fathers, three mothers."
     “So many parents for only one child," Lopez said, slowly unwrapping another lozenge. The Martians had lots of space for traditional families.
     “The tax break for eight adults only having one child allowed them to own twenty-two acres of decent farmland. There are over thirty billion people on Earth. Twenty-two acres is a national park," Holden said. “Also, the DNA mix is legit. They aren’t parents in name only."
     “How did they decide who carried you? "
     “Mother Elise had the widest hips."

     Lopez popped the second lozenge into his mouth and sucked on it a few moments. Before he could speak again, the deck shook. The video recorder jiggled on its arm.
     “Torpedo launches? " Holden said. “Guess those Belt ships didn’t change course."
     “Any thoughts about that, Mr. Holden? "
     “Just that you seem pretty willing to kill Belt ships."
     “You’ve put us in a position where we can’t afford to seem weak. After your accusations, there are a lot of people who don’t think much of us."
     Holden shrugged. If the man was watching for guilt or remorse from Holden, he was out of luck. The Belt ships had known what they were going toward. They hadn’t turned away. But still, something bothered him.
     “They might hate your living guts," Holden said. “But it’s hard to find enough suicidal people to crew six ships. Maybe they think they can outrun torpedoes."
     Lopez didn’t move, his whole body preternaturally still with the focus drugs pouring through him.
     “We—" Lopez began, and the general quarters Klaxon sounded. It was deafening in the small metal compartment.
     “Holy s**t, did they shoot back?" Holden asked.
     Lopez shook himself, like a man waking up from a daydream.

(The Expanse Executive producer Mark Fergus said: It’s a focus pill. It heightens the senses to the point of being able to hear your subject’s heart-beat and discern the micro-twitches in their face and eyes, indicating whether they are lying or telling the truth. The focus pill is lifted straight from the novel.)

From LEVIATHAN WAKES by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2011.
First novel of The Expanse

"I see." Djana sat a while longer, thinking her way forward. At last she looked up and said: "But I'll be honest, I'm scared. I know damn well I'm being watched, ever since I agreed to do this job, and Leon might take it into his head to give me a narcoquiz. You know?"

"This has also been provided for." Rax pointed. "Behind yonder door is a hypnoprobe with amnesiagenic attachments. I am expert in its use. If you agree to help us for the compensation mentioned, you will be shown the rendezvous coordinates and memorize them. Thereafter your recollection of this night will be driven from your consciousness."

"What?" It was as if a hand closed around Djana's heart. She sagged back into her chair. The cigarette dropped from cold fingers.

"Have no fears," the goblin said. "Do not confuse this with zombie-making. There will be no implanted compulsions, unless you count a posthypnotic suggestion making you want to explore Flandry's mind and persuade him to show you how to operate the boat. You will simply awaken tomorrow in a somewhat disorganized state, which will soon pass except that you cannot remember what happened after you arrived here. The suggestion will indicate a night involving drugs, and the money in your purse will indicate the night was not wasted. I doubt you will worry long about the matter, especially since you are soon heading into space."

"I—well—I don't touch the heavy drugs, Rax—"

"Perhaps your client spiked a drink. To continue: Your latent memories will be buried past the reach of any mere narcoquiz. Two alternative situations will restimulate them. One will be an interview where Flandry has told Ammon Wayland is worthless. The other will be his telling you, on the scene, that it is valuable. In either case, full knowledge will return to your awareness and you can take appropriate action."

Djana shook her head. "I've seen … brain-channeled … brain-burned—no," she choked. Every detail in the room, a checkerboard pattern on a lounger, a moving wrinkle on Rax's face, the panels of the inner door, stood before her with nightmare sharpness. "No. I won't."

"I do not speak of slave conditioning," the other said. "That would make you too inflexible. Besides, it takes longer than the hour or so we dare spend. I speak of a voluntary bargain with us which includes your submitting to a harmless cue-recall amnesia."

Djana rose. The knees shook beneath her. "You, you, you could make a mistake. No. I'm going. Let me out." She reached into her purse.

She was too late. The slugthrower had appeared. She stared down its muzzle. "If you do not cooperate tonight," Rax told her, "you are dead. Therefore, why not give yourself a chance to win a million credits? They can buy you liberation from what you are."

From A CIRCUS OF HELLS by Poul Anderson (1970)

(ed note: Trader Lathan Denvers is captured by General Bel Riose and put into a cell with another prisoner Ducem Barr the Siwennian patrician.)

      The trader thrust out a lower lip and nodded his head slowly. He slipped off the flat-linked bracelet that hugged his fight wrist and held it out. “What do you think of that?” He wore the mate to it on his left.
     The Siwennian took the ornament. He responded slowly to the trader’s gesture and put it on. The odd tingling at the wrist passed away quickly.
     Devers’ voice changed at once. “Right, doc, you’ve got the action now. Just speak casually. If this room is wired, they won’t get a thing. That’s a Field Distorter you’ve got there; genuine Mallow design. Sells for twenty-five credits on any world from here to the outer rim. You get it free. Hold your lips still when you talk and take it easy. You’ve got to get the trick of it.”…

     The general threw away his shredded, never-lit cigarette, lit another, and shrugged. “Well, it is beside the immediate point, this lack of first-class tech-men. Except that I might have made more progress with my prisoner were my Psychic Probe in proper order.”
     The secretary’s eyebrows lifted. “You have a Probe?”
     “An old one. A superannuated one which fails me the one time I needed it. I set it up during the prisoner’s sleep, and received nothing. So much for the Probe. I have tried it on my own men and the reaction is quite proper, but again there is not one among my staff of tech-men who can tell me why it fails upon the prisoner. Ducem Barr, who is a theoretician of parts, though no mechanic, says the psychic structure of the prisoner may be unaffected by the Probe since from childhood he has been subjected to alien environments and neural stimuli. I don’t know. But he may yet be useful. I save him in that hope.”

(ed note: of course the General's psychic probe is working properly, the Field Distorter prevents it from operating.)

     There was no answer. He continued, “And there will be more direct evidence. I have brought with me the Psychic Probe. It failed once before, but contact with the enemy is a liberal education.”
     His voice was smoothly threatening and Devers felt the gun thrust hard in his midriff — the general’s gun, hitherto in its holster.
     The general said quietly, “You will remove your wristband and any other metal ornament you wear and give them to me. Slowly! Atomic fields can be distorted, you see, and Psychic Probes might probe only into static. That’s right…I’ll take it.”
     Riose stepped behind his desk, with his blast-gun held ready. He said to Barr, “You too, patrician. Your wristband condemns you. You have been helpful earlier, however, and I am not vindictive, but I shall judge the fate of your behostaged family by the results of the Psychic Probe.”

From FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov (1952)

"We'll get anything we want out of you," Conn told him. "You know what a mind-probe is? You should; your accomplices used one on my father's secretary. She's a hopeless imbecile now. You'll be, too, when we're through with you. But before then, you'll have given us everything you know."

Kelton began to protest. "Conn, you can't do a thing like that!"

"A mind-probe is utterly illegal; why, it's a capital offense!" Ledue exclaimed. "Conn I forbid you..."

"Judge, don't make me call those guards and have you removed," Conn said.

From JUNKYARD PLANET by H. Beam Piper (1963)

      "Have I asked whether or not you wanted it? As for the rest of you—we Klingons have a reputation for ruthlessness. You will find that it is deserved. Should one Klingon soldier be killed here, a thousand Organians will die. I will have order, is that clear?"
     "Commander," Ayelborne said, "I assure you we will cause you no trouble."
     "No. I am sure you will not. Baroner (Captain Kirk's cover identity), come with me."
     "What about Mr. Spock?"
     "Why are you concerned?"
     "He's my friend."
     "You have poor taste in friends. He will be examined. If he is lying, he will die. If he is telling the truth, well, he will find that business has taken a turn for the worse. Guards, remove him."
     The guards, covering Spock with their weapons, gestured him out the door; Spock went meekly.

     Kor only grinned. At the same time, the door opened and Spock was thrust inside, followed by a Klingon lieutenant. To Kirk's enormous relief, his first officer looked perfectly normal.
     "Well, lieutenant?"
     "He is what he claims to be, Commander," the lieutenant said. "A Vulcan trader named Spock. And he really is trading in the other kind of trillium, the vegetable kind; it seems it has value here."
     "Nothing else?"
     "The usual apprehension. His main concern seems to be how he will carry on his business under our occupation. His mind is so undisciplined that he could hold nothing back."
     "All right. Baroner, would you like to try our little truth-finder?"
     "I don't even understand it."
     "It's a mind-sifter," Kor said, "or a mind-ripper, depending on how much force is used. If necessary, we can empty a man's mind as if opening a spigot. Of course, what's left is more vegetable than human."
     "You're proud of it?" Kirk said.
     "All war weapons are unpleasant," Kor said. "Otherwise they would be useless."
     "Mr. Spock, are you sure you're all right?"
     "Perfectly, Baroner. However, it was a remarkable sensation."

     Once in the street, Kirk glanced about quickly. Nobody was within earshot, or seemed to be following them. He said quietly to Spock:"That mind-sifter of theirs must not be quite the terror they think it is."
     "I advise you not to underestimate it, Captain," Spock said. "I was able to resist it, partly with a little Vulcan discipline, partly by misdirection. But on the next higher setting, I am sure I would have been unable to protect myself."
     "And I wouldn't last even that long."

From ERRAND OF MERCY by James Blish (1968)
novalization of the Star Trek TV episode

Unconsciously her hand strayed to the dollar-sized shaved spot on her skull, where she’d been braindipped. The hair was starting to grow back, and it itched. They had told her that removing the tiny sample of cortical tissue for chemical monitoring during questioning—a they took less than a cubic millimeter—couldn’t possibly harm her. She’d hardly felt the prick of the dialytrode needle as it penetrated her scalp. But all the same, she hadn’t felt the same since her arrest. It was more than a little scary to be locked up in a tiny room for a week while those dreadful men shouted at you and asked you questions and made all sorts of terrible accusations just to see how you’d react. They’d even told her that Dr. Ruiz had confessed that she had helped him sell information about the Cygnus Object to the Chinese! She knew that couldn’t be true. And then, when they couldn’t shake her, all the questions about who she’d talked to since the sighting. All of them had been checked out, including her ailing grandmother on Earth. Finally, when they were grudgingly satisfied, all the warnings—threats, really—about not discussing her work with anybody—not even her coworkers at Farside. She hadn’t been allowed her six-month Earth furlough, and even a pass to Mare Imbrium was hardly worth it any more, with the government hassle.

From THE JUPITER THEFT by Donald Moffitt (1977)

(ed note: Prince Zarth Arn of the Mid-Galactic Empire lives two hundred thousand years in the future. He gets bored, and uses a device of his own invention to temporarily trade bodies with John Gordon of 1945. Gordon has fun in the far future, pretending to be Prince Arn. Unfortunatly he is captured by the dastardly Shorr Kan, who wants to rule the galaxy. Kan needs Prince Arn's secret of the ultimate weapon — the Distruptor. Since the real Prince is 200,000 years in the past the joke is on Kan.)

      Shorr Kan dismissed Durk Undis and the guards, and quickly greeted Gordon.
     “You've slept, rested? That's good. Now tell me what you've decided.”
     Gordon shrugged. “There was no decision to make. I can't give you the secret of the Disruptor.”
     Shorr Kan's strong face changed slightly in expression, and he spoke after a pause.
     “I see. I might have expected it. Old mental habits, old traditions—even intelligence can't conquer them, sometimes.”

     His eyes narrowed slightly. “Now listen, Zarth. I told you yesterday that was an unpleasant alternative if you refused. I didn't go into details because I wanted to gain your willing cooperation.
     “But now you force me to be explicit. So let me assure you first of one thing. I am going to have the Disruptor secret from you, whether you give it willingly or not.”
     “Torture, then?” sneered Gordon. “That is what I expected.”
     Shorr Kan made a disgusted gesture. “Faugh, I don't use torture. It's clumsy and undependable, and alienates even your own followers. No, I have quite another method in mind.”

     He gestured to the older of the two nervous-looking men nearby. “Land Allar there, is one of our finest psycho-scientists. Some years ago he devised a certain apparatus which I've been forced to utilize several times.
     “It's a brain-scanner. It literally reads the brain, by scanning the neurones, plotting the synaptic connections, and translating that physical set-up into the knowledge, memories and information possessed by that particular brain. With it, before this night is over, I can have the Disruptor secret right out of your brain.”
     “That,” said John Gordon steadily, “is a rather unclever bluff.”
     Shorr Kan shook his dark head. “I assure you it is not. I can prove it to you it you want me to. Otherwise, you must take my word that the scanner will take everything from your brain.”
     He went on, “The trouble is that the impact of the scanning rays on the brain for hour after hour in time breaks down the synaptic connections it scans. The subject emerges from the process a mindless idiot. That is what will happen to you if we use it on you.”

     The hair bristled on Gordon's neck. He had not a doubt now that Shorr Kan was speaking the truth. If nothing else, the pale, sick faces of the two scientists proved his assertion.
     Weird, fantastic, nightmarishly horrible—yet wholly possible to this latter-day science. An instrument that mechanically read the mind, and in reading wrecked it.
     “I don't want to use it on you, I repeated.
     Shorr Kan was saying earnestly. “For as I told you, you'd be extremely valuable to me as a puppet emperor after the galaxy is conquered. But if you persist in refusing to tell that secret, I simply have no choice.”
     John Gordon felt an insane desire to laugh. This was all too ironic.
     “You've got everything so nicely calculated,” he: told Shorr Kan. “But again, you find yourself defeated by pure chance.”
     “Just what do you mean?” asked the League ruler, with dangerous softness.
     I mean that I can't tell you the secret of the Disruptor because I don't know it.”
     Shorr Kan looked impatient. “That is a rather childish evasion. Everyone knows that as son of the emperor you would be told all about the Disruptor.”
     Gordon nodded. “Quite true. But I happen not to be the emperor's son. I'm a different man entirely.”
     Shorr Kan shrugged. “We are gaining nothing by all this. Go ahead.”

     The last words were addressed to the two scientists. At that moment Gordon savagely leaped for Shorr Kan's throat!
     He never reached it. One of the scientists had a glass paralyzer ready, and swiftly jabbed it at the back of his neck.
     Gordon sank, shocked and stunned. Only dimly, he felt them lifting him onto the metal table. Through his dimming vision, Shorr Kan's hard face and cool black eyes looked down.
     “Your last chance, Zarth. Make but a signal and you can still avoid this fate.”
     Gordon felt the hopelessness of it all, even as his raging anger made him glare up at the League commander.
     The paralyzer touched him again. This shock was like a physical blow. He just sensed the two scientists busy with the massive metal cone above his head, and then darkness claimed him.

     GORDON came slowly to awareness of a throbbing headache. All the devil's trip-hammers seemed to be pounding inside his skull, and he felt a sickening nausea.
     A cool glass was held to his lips, and a voice spoke insistently in his ear.
     “Drink this.”
     Gordon managed to gulp down a pungent liquid. Presently his nausea lessened and his head began to ache less violently.

     He lay for a little time before he finally ventured to open his eyes. He still lay on the table, but the metal cone and the complicated apparatus were not now in sight.
     Over him was bending the anxious face of one of the two Cloud scientists. Then the strong features and brilliant black eyes of Shorr Kan came down in his field of vision.
     “Can you sit up?” asked the scientist. “It will help you recover faster.”
     The man's arm around his shoulders enabled Gordon weakly to slide off the table and into a chair.
     Shorr Kan came and stood in front of him, looking down at him with a queer wonder and interest in his expression.
     He asked, “How do you feel now, John Gordon?”
     Gordon started. He stared back up at the League commander.
     “Then you know?” he husked.
     “Why else do you think we halted the brain-scanning?” Shorr Kan retorted. “If it weren't for that, you'd be a complete mental wreck by now.”

From THE STAR KINGS by Edmond Hamilton (1949)

      "Somehow we've got to make the prisoners talk. The question is—how? If they talk they're dead before we can extract any information. Tests suggest that if we remove the device embedded in their skulls they will also die—what the hell can we do?"
     Keisler's brow creased in broken lines. "Seems as if—no, wait a minute—what was the name—Polter?—Pollard?" He pressed a section of his desk. "Hello, get me the Encyc department—yes, right, call me back."
     He lit a cigar and puffed until a section of the desk lit redly. "Hello, is that—oh, it is you, Leparn; good. Listen this one is just up your street. I am trying to trace the American scientist who perfected the electronic-interrogator. Date of birth would be pre-machine and around 2010. I think the name was Polling but I'm not sure."
     Leparn made vague tongue-clicking noises, then he said: "Pollard, I think—no, certain, Andrew Pollard. Give me ten minutes to do some digging; I think we have a complete biography somewhere."
     He called back in seven minutes. "We have it, a complete biography plus blueprints and specifications—'

     Keisler said: "Perfect, thank you." He turned to Osterly. "Our friends are going to talk without saying a word."
     "I don't follow you."
     "Then, my friend, you must listen. Around two thousand and forty a U.S. electronic genius perfected a device called the electronic interrogator. This piece of machinery was, in truth, a lie-detector which went far beyond anything conceived or constructed on these lines before. To put it briefly, It did not need a verbal answer but was capable of interpreting emotional reactions. Therefore, all that was required was the suspect to be linked with the machine and asked questions. It made no difference whether the questions were answered or ignored, the emotional responses were the same and the machine recorded them. After the interrogation the tape was removed and inserted into a G-type police computer which was capable of interpreting the session."

     "Let me give you an example; let us assume the suspect guilty of murder. The question, therefore, might be, 'Did you kill John Smith?" Whether the suspect answered that question or not is immaterial; the point is, when he heard it, his emotional responses would be the same and the machine would pick them up."
     "Again, with careful and prolonged questioning, not only the exact date and time could be arrived at but the method employed. It meant of course, long and precise interrogation with prepared questions but the results were exact."
     "Once more to quote an example, the questions might be: 'Did you strangle him, shoot him, stab him, poison him, etc.? Was it in the morning, afternoon, evening? Did you kill him for gain, for revenge, jealousy, or acting on instructions?"
     "When the recorded tape gets to the computer, all the negative answers are already deleted so we'd get something like this." Keisler drew a note pad towards him and began to write. After a minute or so he pushed it across the desk."
     Osterly turned it around and read it.

     Question: Did you kill John Smith?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: By what method?
     Answer: Strangulation.

     Question: When?
     Answer: Saturday evening, May 10th.

     Question: Why?
     Answer: Jealousy.

     Osterly returned the pad to the desk with a hand that shook slightly. "My God, if this works we've got 'em; they'll sing a beautiful song without knowing it. We can find out if they're human or not, where they come from, what they intend to do."
     "Don't jump ahead of yourself," said Keisler, quickly. "To arrive at precise questions like that would take about ten hours solid interrogation with prepared questions."
     "Could you build the interrogator?"
     "We have the specifications; I've no doubt the techs could put one together in a day or so."

     One of the screens lit and a voice said: "Interrogation completed, sir. About to feed data to the computers."
     "Hold it until I get there." He punched a stud. "Brogue, come up here and take over. Call me if anything breaks."
     By the time he arrived in the computer section they had fed in the data, but they waited until the door closed behind Osterly before they pressed the activating stud.
     There was a purring sound; the squat bulk of the old-fashioned computer made muffled chuckling sounds and began to exhale typed paper.

     Question: What is your name?
     Answer: Marley.

     Question: Why do you call yourself Royce?
     Answer: I changed my name to conceal my identity.

     Osterly wondered briefly just how many questions had been asked to arrive at the two simple answers.

     Question: Why did you wish to conceal your identity?
     Answer: It was a prepared policy.

     Question: Did all the Immunes adopt it?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: How old are you?
     Answer: Two hundred and eighteen.

     Question: How old do you hope to be?
     Answer: Around three thousand.

     Question: How did this come about?
     Answer: I underwent special treatment.

     Question: Who performed this treatment?
     Answer: Some doctors—I do not know their names.

     Question: Are you human?
     Answer: Yes, I am human, a superior human.

     Question: Are all Immunes superior humans?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: The Immunes are also an organization?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: For world domination?
     Answer: They have world domination.

     Question: You have a government?
     Answer: A directorate.

     Question: With a leader?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: What is his name?
     Answer: He is anonymous—we are all anonymous.

     Question : Is there anyone above the leader?
     Answer: Yes, the Supreme.

     Question: This is another Immune?
     Answer: I do not know—I do not think so.

     Question: It is human?
     Answer: I do not know—I do not think so.

     Question: It is alien?
     Answer: I do not know.

     Question: Can you describe it?
     Answer: No, I have never seen it.

     Question: What does it do?
     Answer: It is the source of power.

     Suddenly the paper stopped with a few printed words: Data concluded; negative responses three thousand, five hundred and seventy-five.
     "My God!" said someone in a shocked voice. "No wonder they took so damn long."

     Osterly, however, was more concerned with the answers and they made him sweat. The Immunes were an organization—numbers unknown—of supermen. An organization which had got the world under its thumb and virtually imprisoned almost without effort. This same organization was now rapidly reducing the population with the same cynical lack of effort—peddling dream-machines and callously manipulating the frightened and hard-pressed survivors. The Immies could afford to take their time, they were, by normal standards, virtually immortal.
     What worried Osterly was the unknown—who, or what, was the Supreme? Clearly there was no religious significance; the Supreme, therefore, was what?
     He suppressed a shudder—something distinctly unpleasant Something which had given a group of normal people powers above the norm. An entity which had taught them advanced surgery, handed them—presumably in return for something—incredible strength and near immortality. And, as if these weren't enough, provided them with the most diabolical method of conquest it was possible to conceive.
     Presumably the application of this same weapon had its source there also—the dream-machine was nothing more than a home self-destruction unit.

     He paused in his thoughts, frowning, vague understanding filtering slowly through his mind. There was no perfect weapon, no weapon yet devised which could not be turned against its creator. That was why the Immies wanted to get rid of the Susceptible/resistants as quickly as possible. Maybe they had been useful in the early days as objects of study but now they were a menace; better get rid of them before they learned too much.
     Gilliad already had; he had demonstrated successfully that the cutting sword had two edges. If he ever got around to wielding it with skill—God, they couldn't afford to let him— could they?—nor could the Supreme, whatever it was.

     He crossed the room and made a brief call. "Room six? Change the questioning; drop the personal; concentrate on priorities. I want an exact or approximate figure of living Immunes and I want every scrap of data available on the Supreme: whereabouts, nature, origin, everything. Pass that on to the Interrogation room and let them draw up a new set of questions. This is an emergency, so press it hard."

From REALITY FORBIDDEN by Philip E. High (1967)

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. Which is written on the arms of the Sabbatic Goat in the famous illustration by Eliphas Levi).

Cutting tools include knives, chisels, lathes, saws, planers, and sanders. Also included under cutting tools are CNC milling machines and Laser Cutters.

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)


What sort of space clothing 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. No spandex, please.

The clothing might be treated with anti-microbial agents to make them odour resistant, since designing a microgravity clothes washer is a challenge NASA has not yet conquered. On the ISS, clothing is worn and re-worn without washing until they get too stinky. Then they are put on the next cargo supply ship to burn up in re-entry. Actually, in microgravity, clothing does not actually touch the wearer's body as much as it does under Terra's gravity.

Uniforms will not have skirts or kilts 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).

NASA ISS astronauts wear clothes with lots of pockets and strips of velcro, as a handy place to carry gear.

The formerly retired postmen were waiting in the hall, in a space cleared from last night’s maildrop. They all wore uniforms, although since no two uniforms were exactly alike they were not, in fact, uniform and therefore not technically uniforms.

From Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (2004)


Winged hats used to be all the rage, but in our current fashion climate, they look rather silly.

Color Coding

A few SF universes color code their uniforms.

SPACE: 1999
FlameMain Mission
YellowService Section
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
Black on WhiteCommunication techs and Physics officers
Yellow on WhiteFighter Pilot Maintenance
Blue-Grey on BlueTorpedo Boat Pilots
Green-GoldCommand: Captain, Helmsmen, Navigation
RedOperations: Engineers and Security
BlueSciences: Medical and Science


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


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)

Lower dropped the ship, lower. Even with nothing against which to measure her, it could be seen that she was small—only half the size, perhaps, of Latterhaven Venus or Latterhaven Hera. The gold letters embossed on her side were now readable. "SEEKER III." (And what, wondered Brasidus, of Seeker I and Seeker II?) And above the name there was a most peculiar badge or symbol. A stylized harpy it looked like—a winged globe surmounted by a five-pointed star (Insignia of the Interstellar Federation Survey Service IFSS). It was nothing like the conventional golden rocker worn on Latterhaven uniforms.

From SPARTAN PLANET by A. Bertram Chandler (1968)

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)

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