Saturday, January 07, 2006

Starship Design

I've been working on the deck plans for the various spacecraft that will appear in my novel. As I've mentioned before, I think a scene comes across as much more realistic when you have all the details down on paper in the form of a map (for figuring out travel times, etc.). The ship I'm currently working on is streamlined so that it could enter an atmosphere, although it never does. In this, it is very much like most of the ships we see in science fiction.

And why is that? What is the need for humans to create streamlined, aesthetically-pleasing spacecraft? They aren't airplanes, after all. Unless you plan to enter an atmosphere -- and darn few planets have a thick enough atmosphere to worry about -- there's no inherent reason to build an interplanetary or interstellar ship to be streamlined. NASA certainly doesn't. I can think of only one good reason, and it's the reason I'm using for justification -- but even I admit it's a little weak. This particular ship requires a crew of four, but is currently being crewed by a single individual. It's important to the story that this person be an isolated, rugged individualist. I see him cutting profit margins to the bone, always staying out in the "Big Black" as long as he can. For that reason, it's conceivable he'd rig his ship to be able to skim hydrogen from a gas giant. The hydrogen could be made into a fusion fuel with some effort. In this way he gets essentially free refueling -- and he doesn't have to come back to civilization as often.

I may or may not actually mention the hydrogen skimming in the book, but because the plot requires that he stay out by himself for long periods of time, I need a plausible means for him to do so. By designing the ship in this way, i've figured out how he can do just that. As I said, it's a bit weak (the easiest fusion requires helium-3, which is going to be a vanishingly small percentage of any hydrogen he scoops -- but who says he's using the easiest variety?), but it serves for my purposes. As Loren Wiseman once said, "I don't have to build it, I just have to decribe it."


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