Crew Quarters

Depending upon the mass limits and the whim of the spacecraft designer, the crew may not have rooms, just sleeping bunks stuck wherever there is some spare room, or to maintain ship balance. And their may not be enough bunks for the entire crew to sleep at once, forcing a "hot bunk" rotation system (i.e., pairs of crew members on different shifts will share a common bunk).

If the designer is feeling more merciful, they may upgrade the luxury to something resembling those "capsule hotels" popular in Japan. The good news is that you have the privacy of a room. The bad news is that the "room" is only slightly larger than a coffin. If you are really lucky the coffin will include an emergency air supply.

Typical 1 person capsule units in such hotels have an internal volume of 2.7 cubic meters, and are 2.04m long × 1.158m wide × 1.138m tall.

Actually, "cabin" is somewhat of a misnomer for this crew quarter. Coffin or closet might be more appropriate, since this is approximately the size of the room. The cabin is intended to serve as a sleeping berth more than anything else, and though it is equipped with a complete computer terminal and minimal hygiene facilities, it is expected that the crew will spend most of their off-duty time in the small commons.

The cabin is intended for use both under acceleration and under micro-gravity. One side is a padded surface with built-in restraints, while the other walls have only a few cushions and pads to protect the occupant as he moves about.

Though the standard crew cabin does not have an independent life support system, it is reasonably airtight and can function as a short time emergency survival shelter (the exact length of time depending on the number of people jammed inside and the quality of the atmosphere.)

The Jovian Confederation ship books have spacecraft designs that are remarkably scientifically accurate and will repay careful study. The accuracy is due to precise oversight by Marc Vezina.

Most luxurious of all is a room actually big enough to turn around in. This is still going to be tiny. Bunks and tables will fold up against the wall, and one won't be able to fold down everything simultaneously. Do some research on accommodation found in wet Naval vessels. For enlisted men, the US Navy manages to cram twelve crewmen into 100 m3, or 8.3 m3 per man. On a sleeper railroad train, it is a more expansive 10 m3 per person, once you add in the diner, baggage and lounge cars (150 m3 per car, 4 passenger cars, 1 diner, 1 baggage, 1 lounge equals 1050 m3 for about 100 people).

Keeping a sense of rank having its privileges, it is very likely that the accommodations for the officers will be one step above that for the enlisted men. But you knew that already.

Again, keep in mind that this is just the personal living space for the crew, not the entire habitable volume of the spacecraft. By the same token, the personal living space for the crew includes both the crew quarters and a common lounge area.

In this NASA report it implies that for the entire habitable volume the bare minimum is about 17 m3 per crewperson. Part of that will be the crewperson's bunk space, the rest is their contribution to the common lounge area.

Presently Thorby became sleepy. But, although he had mastered the gesture by which doors were opened, he still could not find any combination of swipes, scratches, punches, or other actions which would open the bed; he spent that night on the floorplates...

...She moved restlessly. "Thorby, would you mind if I sat in a chair? I don't bend as well as I used to."

Thorby blushed. "Ma'am . . . I have none. I am dis --"

"There's one right behind you. And another behind me." She stood up and touched the wall. A panel slid aside; an upholstered armchair unfolded from the space disclosed.

Seeing his face she said, "Didn't they show you?" and did the same on the other wall; another chair sprang out.

Thorby sat down cautiously, then let his weight relax into cushions as the chair felt him out and adjusted itself to him. A big grin spread over his face. "Gosh!"

"Do you know how to open your work table?"

"Table?"

"Good heavens, didn't they show you anything?"

"Well . . . there was a bed in here once. But I've lost it."

Doctor Mader muttered something, then said, "I might have known it. Thorby, I admire these Traders. I even like them. But they can be the most stiff-necked, self-centered, contrary, self-righteous, uncooperative -- but I should not criticize our hosts. Here." She reached out both hands, touched two spots on the wall and the disappearing bed swung down. With the chairs open, there remained hardly room for one person to stand. "I'd better close it. You saw what I did?"

"Let me try."

She showed Thorby other built-in facilities of what had seemed to be a bare cell: two chairs, a bed, clothes cupboards. Thorby learned that he owned, or at least had, two more work suits, two pairs of soft ship's shoes, and minor items, some of which were strange, bookshelf and spool racks (empty, except for the Laws of Sisu), a drinking fountain, a bed reading light, an intercom, a clock, a mirror, a room thermostat, and gadgets which were useless to him as his background included no need. "What's that?" he asked at last.

"That? Probably the microphone to the Chief Officer's cabin."

From CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein (1957)

(ed note: one hex module is a hexagonal prism, about 3.7 meters wall to wall (12 feet), 15.2 meters long (50 feet), and has a volume of 241 cubic meters (8,500 cubic feet)

The living quarters were on the outboard end of the med module. In accordance with Tom's requests— made on the basis of his earlier experience in LEO Base—each member of the team had a private sleeping sector. None of these "cabins" was spacious, each being a one-sixth sector of the hexagonal cross-section of the module, minus the hexagonal tunnel down its middle, and eight feet (2.4 m) in length.

"Good heavens! We're supposed to live here?" Angela asked, aghast at the cramped aspect of her cabin and its 24-inch (0.6 m) sliding pressure door.

"Well, I had about as much room in a destroyer," Stan remarked. "And some people had even less room on the smaller nonnuclear submarines."

"Actually," Fred Fitzsimmons remarked, "we've got it plush, gang. We've got our own cabin. Most of the construction crews have to work on the hot-bunk system and can use their cabin only during their sleeping shift."

"But it's so small!" Angela pointed out.

"What do you mean, 'small'? It'll get much bigger as you learn how to live in zero-g, Angela," Fred commented. "You've got more than a hundred-fifty cubic feet (4.3 m3) of space. A coffin's only about thirty cubes (0.9 m3), and that's all it takes to hold a human being."

"Oh, thanks for the comparison!" Dave remarked.

"We're all spoiled," Tom pointed out to his crew. "This is sheer luxury compared to the way most people on Earth live. Take Southeast Asia, for example—"

"You take it, Doc. I've been there," Stan pointed out.

Each cabin had its own lighting system, its own emergency life-support system in addition to the air ducts leading to the main GEO Base life-support system, a sleeping sack, and lockers to hold clothing and personal effects. Each cabin door could be closed and sealed from within and from without, but could be opened in an emergency from the main module control center panels.


The sixth sector of the module was a lavatory. The living quarters themselves occupied only eight feet (2.4 m) of the length of a fifty-foot (15.2 m) hex module. Eight more feet (2.4 m) of length were occupied by a stand-by lavatory in addition to two segments devoted to dedicated module life-support and power-distribution equipment. The remaining nine feet (2.7 m) of the outboard half of the module was an open common room. The common room had a feature not present in any of the living cubicles: a 12-inch (0.3 m) triple-glazed port.

From Space Doctor by Lee Correy (G. Harry Stine) 1981

Mess Deck

An army marches on its stomach, and a nothing can raise the morale of a tramp freighter spacecraft quite like the prospect of a tasty hot meal in the mess deck. The flip side is that disgusting food can really drag down morale. And for a ship full of highly skilled crew heading for a multi-year mission into the wilderness, gourmet food can offset many hardships endured.

In some ways the mess deck is the "heart" of the spacecraft, in the sense that it is the focus of interpersonal interaction. This is where the crew hangs out and relaxes, where gossip is exchanged, where people go get a cup of coffee and talk things over. It is probably the largest room in the habitat module. Sometimes there are separate mess decks for officers and enlisted men.

Given the cramped nature of a spacecraft hab module, it might have to do double duty. Often it will be used for an auditorium if the captain has to address the crew.

And sadly as emergency triage/operating room, especially on a military spacecraft. As mentioned below in the Sickbay section, there is a tradition on military ships for off-duty personnel removing their headgear while on the mess deck. It is a sign of respect for the crew members who have in the past, or may in the future, suffer and die there.

And besides food, the mess deck must have coffee, and plenty of it. Or some other stimulant drink. And the coffee urns should have some coffee in them all day long. As a general rule the coffee served tastes awful, since the volume required and lack of motivation on the part of the mess crew lead them to skimp on keeping the coffee brewers properly cleaned. A first officer with an eye towards improving morale might want to encourage the gallery personnel in charge of coffee to GET YOUR FRAGGING BUNS IN GEAR AND KEEP THOSE BLASTED COFFEE URNS SPOTLESS!

The kitchen or galley will have to be specially designed, because it will have to be compact and be able to safely cook in free-fall. Hot grease globs or even entire pots of boiling water flying in zero g can cause severe burns to the kitchen crew.

As you probably know already, the chief mess officer traditionally has the nickname "Cookie".

Cooks in Spaaaaace!

(ed note: the topic is cooking in microgravity in a military spacecraft with a large crew)

Kirk Spencer:

First, I think it necessary to break "cooking" into three large groupings each with several components. The three large groupings are food preparation (cutting and measuring), food assembly (mixing and [sometimes] application of heat), food service (to the table, to the mouth, and after-meal cleanup).

In all these there are two broad difficulties — outgrowths of the same disadvantage. The first is holding the main product in place. The second is capturing and effectively disposing of 'flyaway' waste. As a specific example there's John's chopping station. If I'm chopping an onion, I start by lopping the end(s) and peeling it — and I've got to capture those fly-away papers. I then secure it to the cutting board with my hand as I halve, preslice, and chop it. Upon chopping, the onion dices need to stay in one place and not end up in the waste (or my eyes or throat or ear).

Food prep. chopping. This one's easy. Yes, the cover's a good idea, but I'm not fond of it — largely because an effective cutter gets in the way of holding the knife. Here's my proposal. First, a means of fixing the feet — of bracing for the upcoming knife operations. It can be velcro, stirrups, or hexagonal twist-n-lock pegs on the 'shoes'. Second, a strong vacuum. I use good pre-cook principles, peeling/cleaning "here" and chopping "there". Vacuum one pulls the waste to the "trash". Vacuum two pulls what I chop against a fine seive that holds what I've chopped. A bonus of this last is that it is something I'd actually like groundside — when chopping a large quantity of onions/celery/etc sometimes the previously chopped stuff can get in the way, necessitating pushing it aside.

Food prep, liquids. Also suprisingly easy. I picture most measurements being made and transferred with syringes — needles being optional depending on the connection to the bowl. What I mean by that is that there are a couple of options there: a membrane (single-use such as plastic wrap is today) or permanent. Both have advantages, and I expect to see both. For water-type liquids (vinegars, soy sauce, etc) a large and short needle would work fine. For thicker liquids (honey, molasses, etc) a spot where the syringe is pressed and twisted to lock that contains a one-way hatch is more likely. As an aside, I anticipate bottles containing these liquids to have a means of assisting transfer from bottle to measuring syringe, be that being collapsable or having an expandable balloon or whatever.

Cooking, mixing. Now we're into the fun zone. There are a lot of ways of combining the ingredients, and which you use frequently matters. Your device must reach all areas of the bowl. While slow mixing can probably be done without imparting enough force to throw part of all the item out of the bowl, vigorous mixing (whipping meringue for example, or even beating eggs) has the potential to be... messy. My favorite for hand mixing is odd. Basically, stick the substance into a strong ziplock bag and knead. For the heavy mixing, however, a specialized device is going to be required. Simply putting a lid on a stand mixer won't work as a lot of substances tend to climb the paddle or whip due to surface tension. For beating eggs and similar mixing of very liquid mixes something similar to a martini shaker can be used — two locking metal cups with a set of coarse blades and/or tines within, with the subsequent shaking running the fluid across them in rapid fashion. It's possible this would work for whipping as well, though I'm less sanguine. But for mixing heavy batters or breads, I suspect we'll see modified kitchen devices married to either or both of centrifuges and glove-boxes.

One interesting obstacle at this point is moving the material from one container to another. That is, from cutting board and mixing bowl to cooking pan. With a 0.1G field it's doable — don't rush, and have braces so you can scrape and direct the globules effectively. Still, there's the pleasure of catching the strays. And in zero G it gets more fun yet.

Cooking — applying heat is the easiest. There's really only one problem and it applies in all cases: As you apply heat, the material's going to eject water in the form of steam. While I agree that deep-frying (and boiling) will have difficulties, I'm not going to say they're impossible. Heck, I can think of a system for the deep frying that'd work at containing the hot oil — think airlock. For the drain portion, think salad spinner. I'll say again that it amounts to "not fun", but then after years of dealing with hot oil I think that anyway — deep frying is one of my least favorite ways to cook. That said, pan frying is potentially more difficult. Surface tension will help as will the start of the Maillard Reaction for proteins, but the fun comes in coping with spraying waters/oils, especially during the "flip". Baking... depends. Breads of various types are likely to be spheres. Cookies and tortillas and pitas and other things that must be flat to do well are something else again. Again, I can see pre-flattening plus some reliance on surface tension helping.

Know what? I'm going to stop there. I hate serving even though it's actually a critical part. But almost everything we know about plating goes out the window when your plate has to be a goldfish bowl instead — and nothing is likely to stay in place while moved from kitchen to table. Instead, I'm going to note the types of cooking I see dominating "cooking in space".

Skewers comes to mind as number one. Several cultures provide the concept. You've a dish — common or individual — with several ingredients. You spear your whatever, and put it into a heat source. Fondues and shabu-shabu are unlikely for the most part (though not impossible), so this is more like kebabs and campfire roasts.

Secondly, I see soups contained in collapsible bowls. They can be cooked in yet another such, then each is served not by ladeling but by 'lock and squeeze'. For classics such as wonton soup the nuggets can be added before the lock is attached to the bowl, though the difficulty of coping with large solid AND liquid would tend to make such dishes expensive or uncommon.

Third, I see a lot of baking. Coping with "rising" is going to be tricky but far from impossible — in fact, some of the doughs I make would work well on skewers as at 0.1G they'd set before dripping off onto the oven sides and base. Again, flats such as cookies that rely on gravity to spread them in the midst of the rise are unlikely. On the other hand, consider the chocolate chip nugget... Pate Choux will be a pain, but the principle works well for a host of things that could probably be made to work in low to zero gravity.


John Reiher:

Food prep, chopping: You don't use a knife to chop the food, you use a mandolin that incorporates an enclosed box. Everything sliced goes into the box. You can shred, julienne, waffle cut, and even chop using a mandolin. Of course not everyone is comfortable using a mandolin for chopping. So what you can do is slice the food into the thickness you want with the mandolin, and then break out your dicer. In fact your dicer is probably part of your mandolin box, so it just becomes a switch of plates and now you can safely chop that potato into uniform cubes. No need for anything fancy and no need for fancy knife work. Your food chopper does all the work for you.

Cooking: All those methods sound great, but I cringe at the thought of a large volume of hot oil in a tank. Instead, I'd rather have a centrifugal wok to cook with. The wok bowl would have a curved lip at edge of the bowl who's main purpose in life would be to keep the oil from coming out. But it's not like we're going to spin the bowl at 40 rpm. No, we're going to spin it at about two or three rpm.

The main assumption here is that the ship is under 0.1G acceleration. The rotation isn't to add 1G to the cooking process, but to cause the little bit of oil you add, as well as the food you want to cook, to the wok to stick to the sides of the wok as it spins.

The wok is heated through induction coils around its base. It's heated to around 260°C/500°F. This will cook the food very fast in basically 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil. The coils are only turned on when your cooking, so the wok will cool down fairly quickly.

Depending on the size of the wok, you'll cook three to four servings at a time, scooping it up with a set of metal tongs, with one tong a spatula like affair and the other tong a basket to hold the scooped up food with. The basket will probably be a loose wire mesh, so the oil will drain out easily. Pop it into the serving vessel and repeat.

Hygiene and cleaning: You want to keep cross contamination to a minimum. If you handle any type of raw meat, either wear gloves or sanitize your hands. This includes switching between different types of raw meat. Touch raw chicken, sanitize your hands before touching raw pork.

And like a good kosher household, you'll have your raw meat handling utensils and your vegetable handling materials. I would suggest coloring them red and green respectively and never mix them.

If at all possible, get food handling equipment that's easy to clean. If it has odd lips and crevices, getting that odd bit of food out of there will be nigh impossible unless you use lots of water and elbow grease.

So now we talk about cleaning. Every bit of equipment in your space kitchen has to be easy to disassemble, clean, and sanitized to within an inch of it's life. And everything is made out of metal. Not plastic. Scratch plastic and food or bacteria will get into those scratches and never leave.

This is the main problem with "food printers". You either use fairly toxic chemicals to clean every nozzle, pipe, line, auger, and container, or you use expensive "disposable" cassettes for the printer. And it all should be made of metal, except for the flexible lines, which might be cheaper to throw away after each use and replace with new, because they are a regulation female canine to clean properly.

This all boils down to one simple rule: If in doubt, wash it. If you're still unsure, sanitize it. And if you're really unsure, throw it away and get a new one.

From a thread in sfconsim-l

"Y'know," Panyovsky says. "Sometimes I think the real captain of this ship is Cookie. Other times, I know it." He cracks open the pack, begins pouring ketchup over the eggs.

"The whole galley is an anachronism," says Korie, "I'd give a nickel for an honest 'mat unit."

"Well, this is a second-generation cruiser," explains the other. "And they weren't building them that way then. They thought that with artificial gravity, they could get away from the free-fall packs and return to a more traditional kind of food preparation—allowing, of course, for all the modern technical advances that have since come to the art and science of cooking." He cocks an eye at Korie. "So you see, my friend, what we have is something that is neither this nor that—but a little bit of each. We have a cook—whose main duty is to flash plastipaks. However," he adds thoughtfully, "I will admit his shish kebab isn't bad." He shovels a forkful of ketchup-covered eggs into his mouth,

"Besides," Panyovsky adds, "there are certain advantages to having a cook instead of a 'mat unit. For one thing you have more flexibility in your choice of meals. Look, no matter what kind of a galley you've got, the food is kept in stasis boxes and flashed by microwave. All you've got with a 'mat unit is portion control; big deal, nobody complains about getting more or less than anybody else—but on the other hand, there's no second helpings. At least not without heating up a whole new pack. Now, with a cook, you know there's always something cooking, and you have the back-stop of the plastipaks anyway."

From Yesterday's Children by David Gerrold
Making Coffee

Finally, he introduced me to my immediate boss, Specialist First Chef Ralf al-M'liki, a small, wiry guy with black hair and flashing eyes.


We were on the mess deck. After brief introductions he walked me over to three twenty-liter coffee urns that gleamed atop a counter prominently mounted near the center of the mess deck. I'd never seen anything like them and I must admit I felt intimidated. They gleamed in polished copper and stainless steel and had built-in plumbing to serve each one. The fact that my new boss spoke of them with a kind of solemn reverence didn't help matters.

"These urns provide the life's blood of the ship," he explained. "The whole crew worship at this shrine to caffeine." The chef took a heavy mug from the rack, filled it from the valve at the base of the middle urn, and handed it to me. "What do you think, young Ishmael?"

I peered into the cup. A rainbow sheen floated on the oily sludge in the pristine white china. A burned, musty smell wafted up. An irreverent thought about burnt offerings drifted through my head but I had the good sense not to say anything about that. I took a tentative sip. It was better than it looked, even black. "Not bad, Mr. al-M'liki, but I think it could be improved."

He smiled. His shocking white teeth flashing against his olive skin. "Just call me Cookie, that's what everyone else does." He pointed to the urn on the near end of the counter. "Alright Mr. Wang, let's see what you've got. Use that pot. Do whatever you must to make me coffee to die for," he said before retreating to the galley.


(Pip said) "Don't you think you're taking a hell of a risk being critical on your first day?"

I smiled. "I may be a greenie on the ship, but when it comes to coffee, I'm an expert. Even making it twenty liters at a time can't change that."

With a kind of focused detachment, I rolled up my sleeves and started in. First, I dragged over the stepstool, clambered up on the counter, and examined the container. Sure enough, a dark and peeling film coated the inside. A quick investigation showed the plumbing included both hot and cold feeds, and worse, lukewarm water filled the reservoir.

Nodding to myself, I clambered down, dragging the filter cone with me. I took it into the main galley and scrubbed it in the deep sink with a stiff brush and a mixture of hot water and white vinegar until it gleamed. I returned to the mess with a liter of vinegar and poured it into the urn. Cookie pretended not to watch, so I pretended not to notice, but I caught him glancing at me out of the corner of his eye.

Pip, however, rubbernecked with a red face and eyes bulging in alarm. "What are you doing? Good gods, man, do you know what it'll taste like if you use that?"

"I'm not making coffee with it." I clambered back up on the counter with my scrub brush. "I'm going to use it to scour the sludge out of this urn."

It took quite a while. I had to ask Cookie for a wrench and a bottlebrush and he showed me where to find them without comment. I took the level indicator tube off the front and scrubbed it as well. After more than a stan I finally got it sparkling inside and out to my satisfaction. I gave it a final rinse with scalding water and then shut off the hot water valve and cranked the cold tap all the way open.

Pip showed me where to find the supplies. The high quality paper filters fit the cone perfectly. The coffee, on the other hand, was another matter. When I popped the lid off the air-tight, I found some pathetic crud masquerading as coffee. I dumped it into the waste disposer, and dusted out the air-tight with a towel.

"This is too stale to brew properly. Where are the beans and grinder?"

Pip just blinked at me. "Beans? Grinder? We just put two scoops from the air-tight in the filter and let 'er rip."

"Who stocks the container?"

"Cookie."

I sighed and searched for my new boss. He smiled an odd little grin at my request and showed me where to find the beans, in vacuum sealed buckets stenciled with Djartmo Arabasti, and a Schmidt Coffee Mill that looked large enough to grind a whole bucket at a time. I pulled up the calculator function on my tablet.

Pip, who had followed me, gaped openly. "What are you doing? This is crazy!"

"I can't make anything worth drinking with that stuff." I concentrated on my measurements and my math. "This is going to be rough until I figure out the right combinations, but it takes from seven to fourteen grams per cup and there are about seven cups per liter. Based on that sample Cookie gave me, I should make a strong batch. So, I need about a hundred grams of coffee per liter. That urn is twenty liters but I'm only going to make a half pot, so I need about a kilo," I concluded, looking up from my calculations. "We'll see how well that works and then I can adjust the grind or the amount next time around."

I weighed out the beans into the empty air-tight and used a small brush clipped to the hopper to clear out the discharge chute. The unmarked grind scale didn't provide much information, so I just set the dial in the middle hoping for a medium grind and trusted the Schmidt. I dumped a tub of beans into the hopper and I carefully collected the ground remains as it spilled from the chute. I rubbed them between my fingers and brought the grinds to my nose. It looked good, had a nice texture, and a pleasant scent. I sifted the calculated amount into the filter and went back out to the mess. I watched the fill indicator carefully until I had exactly ten liters in the reservoir, then I scooped a bit of the cold water in a mug and used it to wet the grounds before locking down the lid and punching the brew button. While it dripped, I went back to clean up the grinder and put away the beans.

By the time I finished in the galley, the coffee was almost done. I noted the color in the level indicator, knowing it would appear weaker than it actually was. When the ready light came on, I pulled a fresh mug from the rack and poured it about half full.

Looking in, I saw a beautiful, rich brown brew without any hint of rainbow or oil on the surface. A satisfying aroma steamed out of the mouth of the mug. I took the brew to Cookie and offered it to him without a word. He tilted the cup and examined the color. He pushed his nose below the brim and inhaled deeply as a smile began to form. He took a slurping sip and then a deeper swallow, his eyes closed in concentration. Pip fidgeted beside me, but I waited patiently for Cookie's assessment.

He spoke without opening his eyes. "So, young Ishmael, is this the best you can do?"

Pip inhaled sharply in alarm, but I thought I knew Cookie's game at this point. "I don't know. It might be. There are just too many variables for me to know for sure."

His eyes snapped open and he peered at me, hawkishly. "Such as?"

"Mainly, I need to determine the correct brewing time. If the pot brews too fast, the grind needs to be finer. That's going to depend somewhat on the grav settings. I'm assuming we'll keep this general level of gravity all the time, or at least while we're making coffee. Then, I need to know more about the beans themselves. How fresh are they? How are they stored? What are the characteristics of this particular bean? Last, I need to know the crew's preferences." I ended with a smile. "Judging from the sample you gave me, they like it strong, dark, bitter, and oily. I prefer to skip the bitter and oily part but we must always consider the tastes of the drinker when brewing a perfect cup of coffee."

"Pip," Cookie crowed. "You could learn from this one." He patted me on the shoulder.


Cookie had it down to a science. While Pip certainly had been through it before, I marveled at Cookie's expertise.

"We run a restaurant, gentlemen," he reminded us regularly. "The customers don't have any other choice, but we owe them our best just the same."

Life Support Room

What's in the Life Support room? Controls for the atmosphere, temperature, drinking and washing water, recycling, environmental heat radiators, hydroponics (if any) and algae tanks (if any). There will also be controls to trigger countermeasures if the air pressure suddenly drops. And maybe a canary in a cage.

Life support will also be tasked with controlling obnoxious odors in the ship's atmosphere. They will have filters, perfumes, and negative ion emitters. The life support techs will also use equipment to track down the source of particularly bad smells, say Ordinary Spaceman Lister's unwashed sock bucket.

There's a fortune awaiting the man who invents a really good deodorizer for a spaceship. That's the one thing you can't fail to notice.

Oh, they try, I grant them that. The air goes through precipitators each time it is cycled; it is washed, it is perfumed, a precise fraction of ozone is added, and the new oxygen that is put in after the carbon dioxide is distilled out is as pure as a baby's mind; it has to be, for it is newly released as a by-product of the photosynthesis of living plants. That air is so pure that it really ought to be voted a medal by the Society for the Suppression of Evil Thoughts.

Besides that, a simply amazing amount of the crew's time is put into cleaning, polishing, washing, sterilizing - oh, they try!

But nevertheless, even a new, extra-fare luxury liner like the Tricorn simply reeks of human sweat and ancient sin, with undefinable overtones of organic decay and unfortunate accidents and matters best forgotten. Once I was with Daddy when a Martian tomb was being unsealed - and I found out why xenoarchaeologists always have gas masks handy. But a spaceship smells even worse than that tomb.

It does no good to complain to the purser. He'll listen with professional sympathy and send a crewman around to spray your stateroom with something which (I suspect) merely deadens your nose for a while. But his sympathy is not real, because the poor man simply cannot smell anything wrong himself. He has lived in ships for years; it is literally impossible for him to smell the unmistakable reek of a ship that has been lived in - and, besides, he knows that the air is pure; the ship's instruments show it. None of the professional spacers can smell it.

But the purser and all of them are quite used to having passengers complain about the "unbearable stench" - so they pretend sympathy and go through the motions of correcting the matter.

Not that I complained. I was looking forward to having this ship eating out of my hand, and you don't accomplish that sort of coup by becoming known first thing as a complainer. But other first-timers did, and I certainly understood why - in fact I began to have a glimmer of a doubt about my ambitions to become skipper of an explorer ship.

But - Well, in about two days it seemed to me that they had managed to clean up the ship quite a bit, and shortly thereafter I stopped thinking about it. I began to understand why the ship's crew can't smell the things the passengers complain about. Their nervous systems simply cancel out the old familiar stinks - like a cybernetic skywatch canceling out and ignoring any object whose predicted orbit has previously been programmed into the machine.

But the odor is still there. I suspect that it sinks right into polished metal and can never be removed, short of scrapping the ship and melting it down. Thank goodness the human nervous system is endlessly adaptable.

From Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein

Cargo Hold

What's in the cargo hold? A huge cargo bay door. Perhaps an extendable cargo crane or ramp to facilitate loading. Decks painted with guide-lines to regularize the placement of cargo canisters. Lighting fixtures inset and armored to protect them from clumsy cargo handling. Lots of tie-down attachment points to immobilize the cargo (if the cargo shifts during thrust the rocket will tumble). Hoists in the ceiling. There will be an office for the cargo master, said office might be the "quarterdeck" when the ship is planeted. If so, the office might have repeaters for the critical system monitors, for use by the watch officer.

Also keep in mind that some propulsion systems are radioactive. You might have to arrange things so that the unloaded cargo does not arrive too close to the engines. Possible solutions include a ramp, a small cable tramway like a ski lift, or an arm like on the SF spacecraft SPIP.

Now, I have ranted about how a spacecraft should be arranged more like a skyscraper rather than a passenger aircraft. The exception is if the main function of the spacecraft is carrying cargo. A skyscraper arrangement makes loading the cargo hold a nightmare. For a cargo spacecraft, it makes more sense to design it as a belly lander.

Remember that the ship has to be balanced around the axis of thrust or again the ship will tumble when thrust is applied. Cargo will have to be stowed in a balanced manner, and logged in a mass distribution schedule (sometimes called a "Center-of-mass and moment-of-inertia" chart). The same care has to be taken when removing part of the cargo as well.

As previously mentioned, present-day cargo ships are rated in "Net register tonnage", where each "ton" actually indicates 100 cubic feet of volume (2.83 cubic meters). The average cargo they carry has a density of 350 kg/m3. If the cargo has a wildly different density, some math will be needed, but for most cargo the net tonnage gives a good idea of the ship's cargo capacity. In practice, while filling the cargo hold it will either "mass-out" or "bulk-out", depending on which it runs out of first: lifting capacity or cargo space. In MANNA by Lee Correy (AKA G. Harry Stine) a surface-to-orbit shuttle bulked-out because it was carrying a cargo of fluffy non-dense cotton underwear. While the shuttle could have theoretically lifted more cargo mass, there wasn't any more room in the cargo hold.

In international shipping, a standard cargo container is 33 cubic meters and can have a maximum mass of 24 metric tons (2.2 tons of container and up to 21.8 tons of cargo). An extra large cargo container is 67.5 cubic meters with a max mass of 30.5 metric tons (3.8 ton container with up to 26.7 tons cargo). Thanks to Karl Hauber for pointing out an error in the the old figures posted here.

In cargo container terminology, the tare weight is the mass of the empty container. The gross weight is the mass of the loaded container. Subtract the tare weight from the gross weight and you will have the net weight: the mass of the goods being carried in the container.

In many SF novels, in addition to the cargo bay there will also be a safe to lock up small but valuable cargo items. This is generally in the Captain's office. And for customs officials, there may be official "seals" put on the openings of individual cargo crates or even on the hatches to the entire cargo bay. Such seals cannot be removed without destroying them, ensuring that nobody has tampered with the cargo or concealed any contraband.

There also might be an embargo locker. If the ship is carrying anything that is considered contraband at a given spaceport, such items can be sealed into the embargo locker by the spaceport custom officials for the duration of the stay.

Ships Locker and Slop Chest

There may also be a "ship's locker". This may be an actual locker or as large as a small cargo hold. It contains all the small stores and supplies the ship needs for day-to-day operations. Medical supplies, survival gear, small-arms locker, and the "slop chest". In between voyages, the purser replenishes the ship's locker at the spaceport chandlery. And as the ship gets older, stuff will accumulate.

These were common in the role playing game Traveller. Every adventurer's starship had a ship's locker stuffed full of useful equipment. Many Traveller magazines would have a monthly column called "ship's locker" with suggestions of cool stuff to stock.

Occasionally it will have three sections: General, Utility, and Repair.

  • General: common items like medical supplies, space suits, arms locker and ammo, and bulk items
  • Utility: cleaning supplies, office supplies, curios and sundries
  • Repair: mission-critical spare parts, and routine maintenance parts (lubricants, filters, minor parts)

Sometimes Traveller starships will have a locker full of random stuff that has no obvious use (at the moment) but is too valuable to throw away. This is sometimes called a "hope chest". There could be all sorts of old amusing items lurking in the hope chest, forgotten but waiting. Especially if the chest is part of a second-hand starship purchased "as is".

The Ship's Locker is the storage area that just ... collects stuff. Stuff that a crew member thinks might be useful. Someday. Maybe. Stuff that nobody can think of a use for, but which can't be totally useless. Stuff that nobody quite remembers what they were thinking when they bought it. Stuff that used to be useful, but is broken now, and was just tossed in the Locker until someone remembers to clean the Locker out and toss out all that junk. Stuff.

Note: The really, definitely useful stuff that's kept properly stocked for repairs and maintenance is kept in other lockers — the engineering locker, the avionics locker, the EVA locker, the bridge locker, and so on. Those lockers might collect stuff, too, but not as much, and not nearly as eclectic a collection. The Ship's Locker is for all the rest of the stuff.


Slop Chest

The slop chest contains convenience items and consumables for the crew. The ship's purser sells slop chest items to the crew at cost or charged to the crewmember's unpaid salary. Such items include spare uniforms, junk food, toiletries, games, educational textbooks, and novels. In between voyages, the purser replenishes the slop chest at the spaceport chandlery.

Here is an interesting list of slop chest items for US wet-navy ships in 1942, with prices.

SUBJECT: SLOP CHEST

EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY

The following provision of the Navigation Laws of the United States (46 U.S.C. 670-671) is quoted:

"Every vessel mentioned in section forty-five hundred and sixty-nine of the Revised Statutes shall also be provided with a slop chest, which shall contain a complement of clothing for the intended voyage for each seaman employed, including boots or shoes, hats or caps, under clothing and outer clothing, oiled clothing, and everything necessary for the wear of a seaman; also a full supply of tobacco and blankets.

Any of the contents of the slop chest shall be sold, from time to time, to any or every seaman applying therefor, for his own use, at a profit not exceeding 10 per centum of the reasonable wholesale value of the same at the port at which the voyage commenced.

And if any such vessel is not provided, before sailing, as herein required, the owner shall be liable to a penalty of not more than $500. The provisions of this section shall not apply to vessels plying between the United States and the Dominion of Canada, Newfoundland, the Bermuda Islands, the Bahama Islands, the West Indies, Mexico, and, Central America.

Pursuant thereto, General Agents of WSA shall provide a slop chest for the benefit of seamen aboard each vessel as soon as it enters service.

The Master shall submit to the General Agent a requisition for the items required for the intended voyage and the General Agent shall purchase sane for account of WSA and arrange for delivery of same aboard ship to the custody of the Master.

The General Agent shall supply the Master with the cost price of each item and the Master shall sell, from time to time as specified by him, any of the contents of the slop chest to any or every seaman applying therefor.

The Master shall charge for each item a price approximating, but not exceeding 110% of the reasonable wholesale value of the same at the port at which the voyage commenced.

All receipts of the Master shall be accounted for to the General Agent.

The General Agents shall account to WSA for the cost of the slop chest and receipts in accordance with the accounting regulations of WSA.

Neither the General Agents nor the Master shall place insurance on the contents of the slop chest purchased for account of WSA as the WSA assumes all risks, marine and war, thereon.

It shall be the responsibility of each General Agent and Master to exercise reasonable care and diligence in the compliance with the Owner’s obligations hereunder and in the protection and disposition of the contents of the slop chests.

(Sgd.) J. E. Cushing
Assistant Deputy Administrator for Ship Operations

From Operations Regulations No. 13 (1942)

"That's nice. What have you got there?"

It was a three-dimensional chess set. Max had played the game with his uncle, it being one that all astrogators played. Finding that some of the chartsmen and computermen played it, he had invested his tips in a set from the ship's slop chest. It was a cheap set, having no attention lights and no arrangements for remote-control moving, being merely stacked transparent trays and pieces molded instead of carved, but it sufficed.

From Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein (1953)

(ed note: The U.S.N.A.S frigate New Jersey is going into a suicide battle where it will almost certainly be destroyed. And the crew knows. )

At 0000 hours, the start of the midwatch, (Captain) Fitzthomas went to the quartermaster's office on the cargo deck. "The crew may help itself to the contents of the ship's store," he said.

"Aye sir," said the quartermaster. He lifted from his desk a parchment, the inventory of the store, and very ceremoniously rolled it up and placed it in a tube, which he then sealed and put away in a drawer. Then he opened a locker and removed a tin of chewing tobacco for himself.

On the cargo decks, everything was tightly secured. A short line of ratings waited outside the ship's store already, waiting their turn to help themselves to its contents. Fitzthomas recognized some at them as the ship's entrepreneurs, the ratings who ran card games or stills or always seemed to have what you wanted, for a price. They were cleaning out the store and betting they'd be wealthy men after the battle. Fitzthomas didn't know if it was true optimism or merely hedging their bets. He elected to believe the former.

From The Humanist Inheritance by Matthew Lineberger (unpublished)

Sickbay

What's in the sickbay? What you'd expect: medical supplies, diagnostic equipment, maybe a sick bed or two, maybe a suspended animation cryo-freeze to put a seriously ill or injured crewperson on ice until the ship can make it to port. It might have the luxury of a surgical bed, or the doctor might have to make do with a table in the mess deck. (This is why there is a tradition on military ships for off-duty personnel removing their headgear while on the mess deck. It is a sign of respect for the crewmembers who have in the past, or may in the future, suffer and die there.) During combat, the mess deck become the emergency triage/operating room. On a military ship, the sick bay may have its own separate life support system.

Unlike the other officers' cabins, which were fitted with more sophisticated equipment occupying much less space, Mercer's did not give much room for him to move. From the entry lock, the floor grill stretched ten feet to the curved plastic canopy that ran from below his feet to what was nominally the ceiling and gave, in the ship's present mode, a one hundred and eighty degree view of the inside of the outer hull, complete with structural members and brightly colored cable runs. The floor grill, which was just under three feet wide, separated two vertical tiers of bunks, eight on one side and five on the other. This was because the lowest one of the five was Mercer's, and he, being the doctor, needed much more than the twelve inches which divided patients' bunks.

A passenger unfortunate enough to come down with an infectious disease could be isolated from the living quarters and other patients, because the bunks were each fitted with an individual air supply and a hinged flap which sealed in the patient. Mercer did not suffer from claustrophobia, but he thought that any patient needing to spend more than a few days in one of those bunks would have to be kept under heavy sedation if he wasn't to blow his organic computer.

From Lifeboat by James White (1972)

Contents of NASA's Shuttle first aid medical kit (see right):

  1. bag
  2. blood-pressure cuff
  3. sterile drape
  4. flashlight
  5. disposable oral thermometers
  6. tongue depressors
  7. insertable airway
  8. cotton balls
  9. tourniquet
  10. Foley catheter (you don't want to know)
  11. sterile gloves
  12. fluorescein strips
  13. otoscope and ophthalmoscope heads
  14. stethoscope
  15. lubricant jelly

John Curry, comptroller of Eden Corporation, looked disturbed as he scanned the sheet of budget figures Tom had submitted to him several days before. "Doctor, I didn't realize you'd have to set up a complete hospital at GEO Base."

"We'll need a complete trauma center, as well as an intensive care unit," Tom explained. "I'll also have to be prepared to handle something more than runny noses; I'll need a pathology lab and a blood lab. I'll need radiology equipment because I can't send an employee back to the Jornada with broken bones I don't know about; the accelerations of return and atmospheric entry could kill a person if we didn't know where the break was and take steps to protect him against acceleration. If we could let him come back to Earth at all. We might have to let him heal up there."


Tom had worked out eight basic medical areas he would have to be prepared for. First, there were the usual job-related injuries that were physical: cuts, bruises, burns, abrasions, and even severed limbs. Then there were the pathological aspects, basically public health measures to block entry of infectious bacteria and viruses into space facilities as well as to counteract them when they did sneak in, as they always managed to do.

He also had to be prepared for what he termed the congenital afflictions—appendicitis, tonsilitis, cholecystitis, toothaches, etc. There would also be stress-related illnesses manifesting themselves in hypertension, cardiac problems, and psychosomatic conditions—plus psychological problems caused by isolation and phobias such as the one Ross Jackson had mentioned with the Gemini astronaut.

He had to keep watch for biochemical problems that might be exacerbated or brought on by dietary deficiencies, glandular imbalances, and so forth, plus the medical problems created by social interaction, because there were certain to be fights and alcoholism, and even some drug abuse, strict as the preflight inspection might be. Tom knew enough about human nature to realize somebody would either manage to sneak the stuff up or cobble together a vacuum still.

But the biggest problems were still environmental, the medical aspects of the space environment itself. At GEO Base, he knew he couldn't take a lot of things for granted, earthly things like food, water, temperature, atmosphere, and radiation. These were items that really had him worried.


From Space Doctor by Lee Correy (G. Harry Stine) 1981

Damage Control

Damage control facilities are generally only found on military vessels. One room will be Damage Control Central (DCC), often near or in the engineering section. This is where the Damage Control Officer coordinates the damage control parties. Generally you want the DCC to be in the section of the ship that is hardest to damage (actually, the second hardest spot to damage. The hardest spot should be occupied by the bridge/CIC).

There may be small damage control lockers sited at strategic locations throughout the ship. Locker contents may include hull patches, emergency power cables (i.e., glorified extension cords), short range radios, testing and sensing instruments, portable emergency power generators, fuses, fire extinguishers and tools. Lockers near the reactor or drive will also include geiger counters or other radiation detection and monitoring gear. The detectors will be mounted on long telescoping rods, so one can poke the detector around a corner or near a suspicious breach without exposing oneself. On wet-navy ships there is a special damage-control deck, which is the lowest deck with longitudinal breaks in the watertight bulkheads. This allows quick access to all parts of the ship. However, since our ships are tail-landers instead of belly-landers, in place of a damage-control deck might be one or more special ladderways running along the core of the spacecraft.

Christopher Weuve says that a merchant ship's primary piece of damage control equipment is a lifeboat.

A standard DCL is little more than a roomy closet. Each contains a full set of tools, power cutters and fire fighting equipment, plus a complete database of that particular area of the ship. A dedicated expert system is on hand to monitor the team's progress and inform them of the nature of the problem (if known) or the characteristics and schematics of the problem area.

The Jovian Confederation ship books have spacecraft designs that are remarkably scientifically accurate and will repay careful study. The accuracy is due to precise oversight by Marc Vezina.

Decontamination

If your ship may be boarding people who are infected with a deadly plague, malignant alien parasites, covered in dangerous chemicals, crawling with combat nanotechnology, or dusted with radioactive fallout, you probably do not want them getting your ship or crew dirty. A special airlock leading into a decontamination chamber would be in order.

This is a specialized feature not found on all ship types. You'd expect it on hospital ships, rescue ships, exploration ships, and ships bringing emergency supplies to planetary disaster sites.

A less effective but cheaper option is to use a "suitport". This is where a special space suit attaches its backpack to a hatch on the ship, and the astronaut exist the suit through the backpack. It does reduce, for instance, the external skin of the suit from transporting abrasive lunar dust contamination into the airlock. But the contamination on the backpack still has to be dealt with.

In H. Beam Piper's Uller Uprising, the atmosphere of the planet was highly toxic to humans (large amounts of fluorine and fluoride gasses). The pressurized human bases and vehicles had special airlocks, with three consecutive chambers and four doors. Only one door would open at a time, and the middle chamber was always in vacuum. The purpose was to minimize traces of the planetary atmosphere entering the pressurized base.

In the novel and movie The Andromeda Strain the doctors had to remove and burn their clothing, bathe in various chemical disinfectants, be exposed to ultraviolet rays, and have a xenon-flash unit burn the outer layer of skin and all their body hair into ash (except for the head).

The Andromeda Strain also had something akin to a suitport, but it was more like an entire body glove-box. Pressure suits had long telescoping tubes instead of backpacks.

Naturally the decontamination method depends upon the expected contaminant.

Also note that the decontamination only removes surface contamination. If the people have internal contamination (infected by plague or inhaling radioactive fallout) they will have to be put into a quarantine chamber.

In the TV show Star Trek, they use the hand-waving Transporter to remove contamination, internal and external. As their atomic structure is removed from the starting location and transported to the ship, any (known) harmful bacterial, virus, or dangerous elements are "filtered out". Which is hand-waving at best and has creepy dystopian applications at worse.

The Andromeda Strain

1. THERE ARE TO BE FIVE STAGES:

Stage I: Non-decontaminated, but clean. Approximates sterility of hospital operating room or NASA clean room. No time delay of entrance.

Stage II: Minimal sterilization procedures: hexachlorophene and methitol bath, not requiring total immersion. One-hour delay with clothing change.

Stage III: Moderate sterilization procedures: total-immersion bath, UV irradiation, followed by two-hour delay for preliminary testing. Afebrile infections of UR and GU tracts permitted to pass. Viral symptomatology permitted to pass.

Stage IV: Maximal sterilization procedures: total immersion in four baths of biocaine, monochlorophin, xantholysin, and prophyne with intermediate thirty-minute UV and IR irradiation. All infection hafted at this stage on basis of symptomatology or clinical signs. Routine screening of all personnel. Six-hour delay.

Stage V: Redundant sterilization procedures: no further immersions or testing, but destruct clothing x2 per day. Prophylactic antibiotics for forty-eight hours. Daily screen for superinfection, first eight days.


They began at a door, which said in plain white letters: TO LEVEL II. It was an innocuous, straightforward, almost mundane sign. Hall had expected something more — perhaps a stern guard with a machine gun, or a sentry to check passes. But there was nothing, and he noticed that no one had badges, or clearance cards of any kind.

He mentioned this to Stone. “Yes,” Stone said. “We decided against badges early on. They are easily contaminated and difficult to sterilize; usually they are plastic and high-heat sterilization melts them.”

The four men passed through the door, which clanged shut heavily and sealed with a hissing sound. It was airtight. Hall faced a tiled room, empty except for a hamper marked ‘clothing’. He unzipped his jumpsuit and dropped it into the hamper; there was a brief flash of light as it was incinerated.

Then, looking back, he saw that on the door through which he had come was a sign: “Return to Level I is NOT Possible Through this Access.”

He shrugged. The other men were already moving through the second door, marked simply EXIT. He followed them and stepped into clouds of steam. The odor was peculiar, a faint woodsy smell that he guessed was scented disinfectant. He sat down on a bench and relaxed, allowing the steam to envelop him. It was easy enough to understand the purpose of the steam room: the heat opened the pores, and the steam would be inhaled into the lungs.

The four men waited, saying little, until their bodies were coated with a sheen of moisture, and then walked into the next room.

Leavitt said to Hall, “What do you think of this?”

“It's like a goddam Roman bath,” Hall said.

The next room contained a shallow tub (“Immerse Feet ONLY”) and a shower. (“Do not swallow shower solution. Avoid undue exposure to eyes and mucous membranes.”) It was all very intimidating. He tried to guess what the solutions were by smell, but failed; the shower was slippery, though, which meant it was alkaline. He asked Leavitt about this, and Leavitt said the solution was alpha chlorophin at pH 7.7. Leavitt said that whenever possible, acidic and alkaline solutions were alternated.

“When you think about it,” Leavitt said, “we've faced up to quite a planning problem here. How to disinfect the human body — one of the dirtiest things in the known universe — without killing the person at the same time. Interesting.”

He wandered off. Dripping wet from the shower, Hall looked around for a towel but found none. He entered the next room and blowers turned on from the ceiling in a rush of hot air. From the sides of the room, UV lights clicked on, bathing the room in an intense purple light. He stood there until a buzzer sounded, and the dryers turned off. His skin tingled slightly as he entered the last room, which contained clothing. They were not jumpsuits, but rather like surgical uniforms — light-yellow, a loose-fitting top with a V-neck and short sleeves; elastic banded pants; low rubber-soled shoes, quite comfortable, like ballet slippers.


The second decontamination procedure was similar to the first. Hall's yellow clothing, though he had worn it just an hour, was incinerated.

“Isn't that rather wasteful?” he asked Burton.

Burton shrugged. “It's paper.”

“Paper? That cloth?”

Burton shook his head. “Not cloth. Paper. New process.”

They stepped into the first total-immersion pool. Instructions on the wall told Hall to keep his eyes open under water. Total immersion, he soon discovered, was guaranteed by the simple device of making the connection between the first room and the second an underwater passage. Swimming through, he felt a slight burning of his eyes, but nothing bad.

The second room contained a row of six boxes, glass-walled, looking rather like telephone booths. Hall approached one and saw a sign that said, “Enter and close both eyes. Hold arms slightly away from body and stand with feet one foot apart. Do not open eyes until buzzer sounds. BLINDNESS MAY RESULT FROM EXPOSURE TO LONG-WAVE RADIATION.”

He followed the directions and felt a kind of cold heat on his body. It lasted perhaps five minutes, and then he heard the buzzer and opened his eyes. His body was dry. He followed the others to a corridor, consisting of four showers. Walking down the corridor, he passed beneath each shower in turn. At the end, he found blowers, which dried him, and then clothing. This time the clothing was white.

They dressed, and took the elevator down to Level III.


After two hours, he rejoined the others, and proceeded to Level IV.

Four total-immersion baths, three sequences of ultraviolet and infrared light, two of ultrasonic vibrations, and then something quite astonishing at the end. A steel-walled cubicle, with a helmet on a peg. The sign said, “This is an ultraflash apparatus. To protect head and facial hair, place metal helmet securely on head, then press button below.”

Hall had never heard of ultraflash, and he followed directions, not knowing what to expect. He placed the helmet over his head, then pressed the button.

There was a single, brief, dazzling burst of white light, followed by a wave of heat that filled the cubicle. He felt a moment of pain, so swift he hardly recognized it until it was over. Cautiously, he removed the helmet and looked at his body. His skin was covered with a fine, white ash — and then he realized that the ash was his skin, or had been: the machine had burned away the outer epithelial layers. He proceeded to a shower and washed the ash off. When he finally reached the dressing room, he found green uniforms.

From The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (1969)
Antares Passage

“Decontamination complete, Milady!  You may step through into the next cubicle and get dressed.”

Bethany watched the last of the vile smelling decontamination fluid gurgle down the drain at her feet, and then glanced up at the overhead speaker from which the unseen operator’s voice had emanated.  As she did so, she wondered if he could see her.

“What about my clothing?” she asked, shivering slightly in the sudden cold draft of the chamber.

“Undergoing fumigation, Milady.  You will find a new shipsuit in the cubicle.”

“Thank you!”

“You are most welcome.”

Bethany pressed the control that opened the airtight door leading from the chamber to the changing cubicle beyond.  True to the operator’s word, the plastic bag into which she had sealed the clothing she had worn on Corlis was gone.  In its place was a neatly folded replacement outfit.  She dried herself, then carefully slipped into new underwear, shipsuit, and soft boots.  She brushed her hair using a brush from the tiny personal effects kit that had accompanied the clothing, and studied the result in the full length mirror that hung on the inside of the cubicle door.  Other than temporarily looking like a drowned rodent and smelling of disinfectant, she decided that she was none the worse for wear.  She slipped the packet of personal effects into a pocket of the shipsuit, opened the cubicle door, and stepped into the corridor beyond.

“Welcome aboard Terra,” a voice said from somewhere behind her.

She turned to find Captain Lord Rheinhardt Dreyer, the Sandarian cruiser’s captain, waiting for her.  The captain was a tall man, with a lean figure, close-cropped sandy hair, and eyes that were a pale blue.  He wore the undress uniform of the Royal Sandarian Navy.

“Captain Dreyer!  There was no need for you to come down to meet me.”

The Sandarian officer chuckled.  “Oh, but there was.  Captain Drake would have my ears if you were not treated properly while aboard my ship.  I’m sorry that you couldn’t have been routed directly to Discovery, but the regulations concerning decontamination after a visit to an alien biosphere are extremely stringent.

As they should be,” Bethany replied.  “I understand from Varlan that the Ryall had a number of laborers come down with unknown diseases on Corlis.  I’m no expert, but it seems to me that any microorganism that can feed off Ryall biochemistry might do as well on human.”

Dead Lights 1

It was the first time she had decided to cash in on her own tip and she was there—that was all. Maybe that point weighed with Cliff, maybe he just didn’t care. Anyway the three were together when they sighted the Empress riding, her dead-lights gleaming, a ghost ship in night space.

She must have been an eerie sight because her other lights were on too, in addition to the red warnings at her nose. She seemed alive, a Flying Dutchman of space.

From All Cats Are Gray by Andre Norton (1953)
Dead Lights 2

But Van Rycke was not just a machine of facts and figures, he was also a superb raconteur, a collector of legends who could keep the whole mess spellbound as he spun one of his tales. No one but he could pay such perfect tribute to the small details of the eerie story of the New Hope, the ship which had blasted off with refugees from the Martian rebellion, never to be sighted until a century later — the New Hope wandering forever in free fall, its dead lights glowing evilly red at its nose, its escape ports ominously sealed — the New Hope never boarded, never salvaged because it was only sighted by ships which were themselves in dire trouble, so that "to sight the New Hope" had become a synonym for the worst of luck.

Then there were the "Whisperers", whose siren voices were heard by those men who had been too long in space, and about whom a whole mythology had developed. Van Rycke could list the human demi-gods of the star lanes, too. Sanford Jones, the first man who had dared Galactic flight, whose lost ship had suddenly flashed out of Hyperspace, over a Sirius world three centuries after it had lifted from Terra, the mummified body of the pilot still at the frozen controls, Sanford Jones who now welcomed on board that misty "Comet" all spacemen who died with their magnetic boots on. Yes, in his way, Van Rycke made his new assistant free of more than one kind of space knowledge.

From Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton (1955)
Dead Lights 3

"You touched him?" At the other's nod he added an order. "Stay in your quarters until I have a chance to look you over—understand?"

Dane had no chance to answer, the Medic was already on his way. He went to his own cabin, understanding the reason for his imprisonment, but inwardly rebelling against it. Rather than sit idle he snapped on the reader—but, although facts and figures were dunned into his ears—he really heard very little. He couldn't apply himself—not with a new specter leering at him from the bulkhead.

The dangers of the space lanes were not to be numbered, death walked among the stars a familiar companion of all spacemen. And to the Free Trader it was the extra and invisible crewman on every ship that raised. But there were deaths and deaths—And Dane could not forget the gruesome legends Van Rycke collected avidly as his hobby—had recorded in his private library of the folk lore of space.

Stories such as that of the ghostly New Hope carrying refugees from the first Martian Rebellion—the ship which had lifted for the stars but had never arrived, which wandered for a timeless eternity, a derelict in free fall, its port closed but the warning dead lights on at its nose—a ship which through five centuries had been sighted only by a spacer in similar distress. Such stories were numerous. There were other tales of "plague" ships wandering free with their dead crews, or discovered and shot into some sun by a patrol cruiser so that they might not carry their infection farther. Plague—the nebulous "worst" the Traders had to face. Dane screwed his eyes shut, tried to concentrate upon the droning voice in his ears, but he could not control his thoughts nor—his fears.

At a touch on his arm he started so wildly that he jerked the cord loose from the reader and sat up, somewhat shamefaced, to greet Tau. At the Medic's orders he stripped for one of the most complete examinations he had ever undergone outside a quarantine port. It included an almost microscopic inspection of the skin on his neck and shoulders, but when Tau had done he gave a sigh of relief.

"Well, you haven't got it—at least you don't show any signs yet," he amended his first statement almost before the words were out of his mouth.


He glanced over the board before he brought his hand down on a single key set a distance apart from the other controls. "Put some local color into it," was his comment.

Dane understood. Rip had turned on the distress signal at the Queen's nose. When she set down on the Stat field she would be flaming a banner of trouble. Next to the wan dead lights, set only when a ship had no hope of ever reaching port at all, that signal was one every spacer dreaded having to flash. But it was not the dead lights—not yet for the Queen.

From Plague Ship by Andre Norton (1956)

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