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.
(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).
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.
Like all smart phones, the tricorder will have a still/video camera, and a microphone.
Other sensors could include:
- Ambient Air Pressure
- Ambient Humidity
- Ambient Temperature
- Atmospheric Composition
- Backscatter X-Ray
- DNA Sequencing
- Light Meter
- Multispectral Imaging
- Non-Contact IR Thermometer
- Radiation Detector
- Thermographic Camera
- Ultrasound Scan
Tricorder sensor arrays might incorporate sensors used by spacecraft remote-sensing suites:
- Dual-Laser Remote Sensing
- Monostatic Detection Of Radioactive Material
- Gamma Ray Spectrometers
- Life Signs Sensors
- Radar Range-and-Rate Gun
- Spy Rays
- Terahertz Scanning
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.
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.
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.
In free fall the rocketeers may also use a "broomstick" to move around.
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.
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.
This is some sort of science fictional technique where a person learns some skill or knowledge in a half hour or so. It generally takes the form of putting on a headset, lying in a bed, going to sleep (or being drugged), and having the knowledge electronically engraved into your memory. It is commonly used to learn a new language, but sometimes more complicated knowledge can be acquired. It is sometimes called hypnopædia, or hypnopedia.
Common limitations include:
- The user is not aware of the new knowledge unless they go rooting around in their memory.
- The user has learned facts, but they need standard drills to be able to use the facts. For instance, you can learn about trigonometry, but you cannot use it without conventional math training
- It can be used for brainwashing or deep indoctrination
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).
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).
These are tools that are controlled simply by thinking at them. Crude versions require electrodes surgically implanted in the brain, advanced versions can remotely read the user's thoughts with no surgery required.
In James White's collection Major Operation, the continent-sized strata creatures of the planet Meatball create silver tools that can be molded into various shapes by a user simply visualizing the desired shape and thinking it at the tool. The interesting thing is that more than one entity can control a given tool. If a strata creature forms the tool into a dagger-like shape and hurls it at you, save your skin by frantically thinking the tool into some kind of blunt object.
In the movie Forbidden Planet is featured a titanic forerunner installation called the Krell Machine. When the machine was activated, any Krell citizen could mentally control it to wish for anything they wanted. The machine woudl then use the power of 9,200 thermonuclear reactors to make it happen. At that point the Krell learned the hard way about the Monsters from the ID problem. The entire race was exterminated overnight.
In Daniel Galouye's Lords of the Psychon the alien invaders use ring-shaped generators to create clouds of mysterious "psychon plasma". The plasma can be formed into any shape the user can imagine and utilized as a universal tool. Unfortunately the Monsters from the ID problem will allow ones subconscious to instantly form it into nightmare shapes drawn from the foul depths of your personality. Generally the subconsciously controled plasma won't harm you, just seriously harm your mental stability.
The problem can be fixed by undergoing psychoanalysis, to purge all the crap out of your subconsious. The nightmarish shapes formed by the psychon plasma can accelearate the process. However, it is very important to have such psychoanalysis rooms to be widely spaced apart. Otherwise your psychon plasma may not be controlled by you, but instead by a person in an adjacent room. And psychon plasma subconsciously controlled by somebody else can easily kill you.
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."
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.
My father was in the USAF, and I found his old flight suits to be very comfortable and practical. The many zippered pockets were quite useful. Though when I attended science fiction conventions with my cosplaying friends, this turned out to be a liability. Cosplay costumes seldom included pockets, so I wound up being the pack mule for everybody else.
The pockets were useful, but practical. They shut with zippers so things could not fall out, especially if you are spinning in mid-air. They were also positioned so to avoid the straps on one's parachute and the belts holding you into the aircraft seats. I trust you see how this could also be applied to spacecraft crew uniforms.
The center zipper has tabs at both ends, which allows the bottom tab to act as a fly. This allows the user to urinate without unzipping the entire front. But only if the user has male genitalia or a freefall toilet with a urine funnel. Torchships are capable of prolonged periods of multi-gee burns, so the acceleration couches may well be designed with built in urine funnels aka "relief tubes". You cannot get up and walk to the head if the ship is pulling five gees.
If the user has to defecate they are
S.O.L. out of luck, whatever their gender. You almost have to take the entire flight suit off. As a side note, since one cannot remove one's spacesuit in vacuum without dying, defecation in a space suit is handled with either diapers or something more complicated.
There was one interesting pocket that would puzzle a civilian. A narrow one located on the left inner thigh. It held a special switch-blade knife, with a curved hooked blade (MC-1 survival knife).
You see, when you use a parachute to escape a plummeting aircraft, the chute will get you down to the ground without you becoming a large blood-colored splat. But if there is any wind when you land, the chute can easily drag you to death. The curved blade was to quickly cut the chute canopy lines to prevent that unhappy fate. The blade deployed by pushing the switch-blade button on the knife because time is of the essence. And the knife was held in that special pocket, perfectly positioned to be quickly grabbed.
There is also a convenient grommet hole on that pocket used to attach the knife to the suit by nylon cord lanyard. Could be the difference between life and death in case you drop the knife.
But I knew about that pocket because I was an air-force brat. I often saw that orange-handled knife when my father suited up to go to work. As well as his dragon helmet.
Science fiction authors may find it entertaining to think up what sort of similar equipment is regularly carried by the spaceship crew in the novel.
Winged hats used to be all the rage, but in our current fashion climate, they look rather silly.
A few SF universes color code their uniforms.
|Red on White||COMBAT: Gunnery, Commandos, Fighter Pilots|
|Green on White||NAVIGATION: Navigation, Radar|
|Blue on White||ENGINEERING: various Engineers, excluding Engine Room personnel|
|Red-Orange on White||ENGINEERING: Engine Room personnel|
|Black on Yellow||LIVING GROUP and COMMUNICATIONS GROUP: living arrangement officers and communication techs|
|Yellow on Black||Black Tiger Fighter Pilots|
|White on Blue||KITCHEN GROUP|
|Black on White||Communication techs and Physics officers|
|Yellow on White||Fighter Pilot Maintenance|
|Blue-Grey on Blue||Torpedo Boat Pilots|
|Green-Gold||Command: Captain, Helmsmen, Navigation|
|Red||Operations: Engineers and Security|
|Blue||Sciences: Medical and Science|
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.