Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Food Can Be Found On Your Space Station?

We’ve spoken of what currency your fictional station uses, how your crew gets their basic supplies, and of the need to have specialized vendors on station for things like cultural crafts, clothes, and fresh food. Now let’s talk about where your residents eat. You could have kitchens set up so everyone could cook their own meals or have replicators provide food on request but there will still be those who want the convenience and pleasure of having others prepare and bring their food while they talk with friends or finish work. If you decide to have no replicator on station it would probably be smartest to at least have a cafeteria your workers could eat at during working hours or at any hour on the clock as a station will have to be worked all day and all night. It makes for a quick meal while on the clock. The faster the meal, the more work that gets done, and the more work that gets done during normal working hours means less overtime the company needs to pay. That means that if the company that owns the station puts in a cafeteria, whether the crew pays for the food or if it’s free for the workers, the company wins in the long run. If the station is run by a military, especially if the military is based on the United States military, the crew will be provided a place to eat or given a stipend on each paycheck to buy food.
But where will the rest of the residents eat, the ones that don’t work directly for the company or military that runs the station? Think of it this way: a space station is very similar to a city or town here on Earth. Have you ever been in a town, no matter how small, that didn’t at least have a café, bar, and or full restaurant? I’ve never been in a town that didn’t have at least a family friendly establishment and a bar with in twenty minutes of it. True, there may only be one in the town, but there is usually at least one place that provides food to those not in the mood to cook that meal or who want somewhere to go to celebrate. You may decide to create what is called a “dry” station where alcohol isn’t sold or is banned, but on a station of at least the thousand or more people needed to keep the station running, you can bet that someone would realize there is an opportunity for income and set up a restaurant or café. How many establishments would depend on what type of station you want to create. A tourist stop could have a lot of restaurants providing a lot of different types of food. (Think of tourist places like Disney World, which provides food themed to fit the amusement park.) However, an oasis for crew members traveling the stars would be more likely to have a bar that provides food than a family restaurant with a child’s menu.
You should also take into account the nearby planets. Their cultural or favorite food is more likely to be on the station than the distant food from Earth. If the station is run mostly by humans, though, then you may find a few favored Earth meals sold on station.
There are a lot of factors that would affect what food is sold what food is sold on your station and how it’s sold but you are likely to need the information at least once in your story. How many stories have you read with at least one scene involving food, whether it’s preparing a meal, cleaning up afterwards, or a waiter interrupting a conversation while delivering food? Food is such an intricate part of a human’s life that it’s hard to not include food in a realistic story.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Does Your Station Get Its One-Of-A-Kind Items?

Last time we discussed how the residents on your fictional station would get the basics, now we’ll discuss how they get their special things such as cultural decorations, souvenirs, and special clothes. True, you could always have them design and program the perfect product into the replicator but the true pleasure of cultural or expensive things is that they were handmade or made the traditional way. Things such as rugs or pottery are often bought more for the time put into the product and the story behind it than for the look of the product itself. Even now, in such an industrialized culture on Earth, stores are created where their specialty is selling handmade products from a specific area or culture somewhere else in the world. Having stores like that, even just vendors on the main hallway, would be very likely in the future with people traveling light years from their home or their parents’ cultures.
Other types of vendors you’d likely find on a space station would be fresh food from a local planet (everyone gets fed up with replicators that never quite create the perfect taste of real food) and tailors. Tailors and seamstresses can make the one size fits all outfits and uniforms sold at the basic stores to truly fit and show off a person’s figure. People go to tailors and seamstresses now a days to have the perfect outfit created just for them and to know that they’ve reached the point in their income where they can afford the expense. As mass produced clothes take up almost all the shelves in stores these days, tailors, seamstresses, and the truly expensive personal designers still make a healthy living and I doubt that need to be special and feel rich will ever go away.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How Does Your Station Get Supplies?

Now that you’ve decided on the currency used on your fictional space station, you need to decide how your people get their supplies. Is everything through mail order or by traveling ships that stop at the station, sell things, and move on to the next station or by a store on station that gets refilled every day or every week? As far as “supplies” I mean things like soaps and the basic clothes or snacks, things you might go to Target or Walmart for, not so much the special things like daily meals, fancy clothes, or decorations. We’ll cover those in later posts but for now I want you to think about where the basics for your people comes from. Is it one store or many stores selling different things. How often does the store or stores get restocked and what happens if that store isn’t restocked on time?
Instead of stores you could have replicators. Replicators are what the creators of the various Star Trek series decided on to explain where supplies comes from on ships and stations. Basically the idea is that the station holds a huge amount of raw supplies, such as huge squares of metal with a lot of molecules in the smallest space possible. Someone asks the replicator for something, let’s say a cup of tea, and the replicator takes a piece of the metal square, seperates it down to it’s molecules, sends the molecules (atoms) through the wires to the activated replicator, and reassembles the molecules from the metal into the desired cup of tea. It changes the metal at the atoms, changing the number of protons, electrons, and neutrons of the metal into the correct number, so it really is a cup of tea when it comes out. Then when the person is done with the tea, they put the cup back on the replicator and the cup is broken down, sent through the system and reassembled as the metal square for storage. Everything on station could work like that which in theory would mean no waste sent off station and never needing new metal pieces. However, since a space station is by design a temporary space port for most people, what goes out of the replicator may not go back into the system to get recycled. A snack may have been gotten for a ride on a ship that has no replicator or visitors may leave before the food had a chance to re-enter the replicator system. With that in mind you may want to decide how often your raw supplies get replaced and if there are any limitations such as if molecules can only be arranged and rearranged so many times.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Currency Is On Your Station?

I mentioned in a previous post that most stations seem to rent out their quarters( but I still haven’t talked about currency on a space station. We have a saying on Earth that “money makes the world go ‘round”. Not much of anything gets done on Earth without compensation for the job, whether it is in the form of money, brownie points aimed at a higher goal, or favors now being owed. It’s up to you to decide what form of currency is used. I know that in an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation it’s mentioned that the Federation no longer has a use for money, and although a society that doesn’t use money is possible it would need some sort of resource management to be sure everyone got what they needed on time. In the next Star Trek series, Deep Space 9, the Ferengi used latinum and the Federation used credits. In the television show Babylon 5 they used cards like modern debit cards that paid in “credits” as well. The term “credits” is a good way of using one currency to cover any local currencies that may be on station but isn’t very imaginative. On the plus side, people who travel a lot often refer to the local currency by one term, whether everything is spoken of as “dollars”, “pesos”, or merely “dubbers”, it’s all the same to many people. On that idea calling the local currency all “credits” or something similar would make sense, no matter what the locals call it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Schooling is on Your Fictional Space Station?

Along with knowing what quarters your station has, you should by now know what type of people, or demographic, your station has. If you have children as permanent residents of the station, or at least there a few months out of the year, you should probably think about how they are getting educated. There are many ways to educate a group of children, whether in a classroom with all ages in there and the older children reading at their pace while the teacher focuses on teaching the younger children to read and write or by each ability group being taught together or even independent study. How you teach the children on the station can come up in your story a number of ways, whether it’s crossing a group of children on a field trip or walking your character’s child to school every day, so it’s a good idea to know this before you start writing. The more you know about your setting before you start writing, the more consistent your story will be.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Living Quarters Are On Your Fictional Space Station?

One of the biggest things people worry about when they travel or move to a new place is where they’ll stay when they get there. Creating a fictional space station is no different: possibly one of the most important facts that will come out in your story is the living quarters your characters live in. Do they live in a small single person quarters or share a slightly bigger space with a roommate or two? Do they share a bedroom with their siblings or do children get separate rooms from siblings and parents? Do they live in a room similar to military barracks or are their quarters closer to a penthouse?
How does the station distribute quarters? Is it similar to a hotel where the station gets paid by the day or is it more like an apartment building where rent can come by the month? Does your station even collect rent on the quarters or is it a first come, first served mentality. Does your station house permanent residents or merely have crew come and go every few years? Many stations, such as Star Trek Deep Space 9 and Babylon 5 in their television series, have quarters set aside for the crewmembers stationed there for a few years and rent out the other quarters to guests or merchants as they pass through.
Another question to ask is how your station deals with other species. Taking the previously mentioned television series DS9 only seems to have species that breathe air similar to Earth atmosphere and the individual rooms have the ability to change their own air if desired. Babylon 5 has areas in a section called the alien sector that have different atmospheres for different aliens and humans have to wear gas masks to enter the sector. Those are two ways to deal with the question of what air other species may breathe. However you decide to adapt to your aliens or have them adapt to humans, remember to be consistent. There are readers that will pick up on things such as that a low oxygen environment doesn’t affect a character it should affect or that a character isn’t wearing a mask when it should be.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Medical Care Does Your Space Station Have?

Now that I’ve gone through the technical areas of a fictional space station, let’s talk about the areas that deal with intelligent life, starting with medical facilities on station. Your station remains in one place and as such would most likely have more of a hospital feel to it than that of the local family doctor who can only deal with so much. Most station medical areas in books and movies can do anything from the full laboratory work up needed to diagnose a patient to the basic steps needed to heal the patient as well as dealing with anyone from newborn infant or pregnant mother to an elderly person dying of old age from any species. Often they have separate wards for different species that need special environments to survive or heal as well as at least one manually adaptable room for treating new species with the atmosphere found on the ship the alien arrived on.
I’d say that a space station is similar to a town or city now a days. As you journey across the country you pass through fields and woodland, small towns, bigger towns, and cities of all sizes. The sizes change, but every county has a hospital and every city tends to have a few hospitals and a number of clinics. An interesting thing about the city hospitals is that most of them are renowned for specific things. The Mayo Clinic a hospital systemis world renowned for its unique treatments on rare diseases while other hospitals can focus on children or research on conditions effecting specific organs that could change the future of science and medicine. Many hospitals these days also cater to cosmetic surgeries, such as reconstructing a face or merely shrinking a nose for vanity’s sake, and there are even pet hospitals in many cities now. Modern medicine can do many things and most hospitals in large cities can accommodate anything or can quickly get the patient to the correct hospital. It may be beneficial to at least decide what the limits of your medical facilities are before you write a lot of scenes in the medical wards.
Another thing to consider is that every doctor has his or her specialty whether it’s dealing with children, a specific alien species, or prefers diseases to dealing with broken limbs. Knowing the doctor’s specialty and their reason for learning that specialty can do a lot towards creating the character for story purposes if the doctor isn’t a major character in your story. (A scene where an animal doctor is forced to heal a human or alien could be a fun scene to read and write. I know I can think of many other examples where a doctor’s training doesn’t prepare him or her for an emergency could create an interesting scene with nervous tension or near panic.)
One final thought on medicine on a space station comes from the Babylon 5 television series. It was set on a space station that had its main doctor have a specialty in zenobiology, or the study of non-human life. I would guess that zenobiology would be a common focus or hobby of many doctors that would choose to work on a space station instead of a possibly better paying job planet-side somewhere.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Space Station Utilities

When you think about paying your utility bill, that generally means paying for the electricity you used, the water pumped into your house, the sewage system, and trash removal . How do those work on your station? I discussed electricity ideas earlier in the engineering post but what about the other utilities?
In the many Star Trek series they had a replicator system that turned the trash and sewage back into usable items by breaking the trash and sewage down into atoms and storing the atoms until they were reformed into clean items requested at a replicator. With the major push for recycling going on in the world now, such an invention could happen. Somehow every form of waste could be recycled into usable products on your station or you could set up your station to automatically separate the recyclables from the burnables and sewage. While the recyclables are recycled or sent elsewhere to be reused, the burnables are burned or melted down, the bad smoke purified and the ashes kept with the sewage to be sent by cargo ship somewhere else.
As for the water on ship, that would likely need to get purified and reused or created somehow. A simple way to do that would be to turn the dirty water into steam, purify the steam, and turn it back into usable water, maybe add some vitamins to the drinking water system.
Another set of systems that fit under the term “utilities” on a space ship is what I referred to as the communications department on a ship. The department is in charge of making sure everyone has every ability possible to talk to anyone off station and anyone on station and you probably want to think of at least a basic explanation of how before continuing to create your station. Do your people communicate by video over the network, by a communication device on them somewhere(Star Trek phone like device that as well as a button on their breast that caught their voice and transmitted it wirelessly while Babylon 5 had a similar device on the back of their hands for station personnel), by a halogram of some sort, or by another method.
No matter how you decide your utilities work on your station, figure out how the people on station would get help if something breaks. No matter where you are or what century your story is set in, things can always break. You may be in a state-of-the-art station newly built and tested to perfection, but there are always unexpected glitches in the system, whether too much hair or trash in the pipes backs up the sewage system every once in a while or a virus has the replicators only creating discolored food or one type of food. Such glitches would seem disasterous to civilians and a help desk should be manned all day, everyday to calm them down until the problem can be dealt with.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Dock System Does Your Fictional Space Station Have?

If you watch science fiction movies or television series, you may have noticed two different docking systems shown. On Star Trek: Deep Space 9 the space ship docks on the outside of the ship. It connects its door to a door on the station that extends and creates an air tight seal. That enables people to leave the ship through a hallway pressurized safely so that they don’t die from leaving the ship in space. On the television show Babylon 5 and the five movies that spun off it, the docks were quite different. In that show the ships entered the station, turned their navigation over to the station and the station parking the ship in a pressurized cargo hold that people could safely walk through. Both ideas have their pros and cons but let’s think about the internal dock theory first. The show depicted a number of problems from the pilots panicking and trying to navigate their ships in the tight areas, usually causing massive accidents that shut down those parts of the docks for days or weeks to the long hours of preventative maintenance and preservation the dock workers had to put in to keep the corrosion from space at a workable level. No other place on station, other than the hull, has so much contact with space and the changing pressures between space and livable. As a result the systems would need constant maintenance to remain operational. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 seemed to show no problems with the system other than the clumsy driver every once in a while that parked the ship wrong and screwed up that docking mechanism. However, that system left a limited number of docks, although large ships could dock straight to the station while large ships had to wait outside Babylon 5 and their crew and cargo where shuttled in by station shuttles. Also, the Babylon 5 method offered more protection to the docked ship. If Deep Space 9 was attacked, all the ships docked with it would be sitting ducks for enemy fire, although the station has a force field that encircles the ships in the station’s defense capabilities. (Is there a ship too big for that field to protect? Just a thought that never seems to be discussed on Deep Space 9 that you may want to answer before your station is attacked if you have this type of docks.)
Another type of dock system is a modern one where ships attach themselves to buoys or a certain place in the water and the people are ferried in to land in smaller boats. The practice is called “anchoring out” and happens when big boats want to pull into a harbor with waters too shallow to support the large ship.
No matter what type of docking system you decide to go with for your space station, the schedule will usually be hard to keep up, depending on your station type and location. If your station is a military outpost or a research center of some sort it may not get much traffic other than the yearly supply ship that brings new workers and fresh research material, you may not need a schedule or much in the way of docking either. If your station is a trade center for a few systems, as most stations are, you will need a schedule saying what docks are open, what docks aren’t, when they’ll be open, and when the expected ships will arrive as well as plans for if unexpected ships arrive out of schedule. It is a harbor workers worst nightmare to be in charge of that schedule and it takes a number of operators in a tower to direct and enforce the schedule at airports. Space pilots hate to wait their turn and always want to jump the line or convince people that their business is more important than those around them. Space ships can come at all hours since in space the clock on station is the only time around. The docks need to be scheduled to be at least partly open all day long which means more schedules and more complaints. Oh well, what’s a boss to do but listen to complaints at assigned jobs?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What Type of Command Center Does Your Station Have?

Just as every computer has its headquarters (a server), so every space station has its command center and command crew. It doesn’t matter if the station is civilian, military, or run by some variation or combination. Every station is run by a set of people (I called them department heads in my ship creation series) that are in charge of different areas of the station. Although it would be possible for those people to run the station as a board, it would be difficult to get them all to work together without someone above them making sure station politics doesn’t break down and people refuse to work together. Just as every city has its mayor, every station has its captain, the person overall in charge of the station. That person doesn’t need to be called the captain, he or she may not even have a title. They may be nothing more than a Secretary of Utilities or the manager of a company hired to run the station but he or she has a place to sit and monitor schedules, power plant readouts, personal problems of the crew, complaints about service, make advancement decisions, damage reports, and possibly plan the schedules of dignitaries or important people visiting the station. This person in charge of maintaining the station has many jobs, but one he or she probably delegates as it is one of the hardest jobs on station is maintaining the docks and keeping them on schedule.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What Antennas and Defenses Does Your Fictional Space Station Need?

I mentioned earlier that modern ships need antennas to send and receive messages from all over the world. On space ships it could be difficult to have antennas outside the ship as ships need to be able to move fast through space. Space stations don’t have that problem. Space stations are, by definition, stationary. For that reason we can have bigger antennas and clearer messages from distant planets while ships will need to find other ways to send and receive messages.
Since space stations are unable or very slow to move, they need to be protected. I mentioned ways of protecting planets in an earlier post and those are all good ways to protect a space station as well. Satellites a certain distance away from the station can create a defense grid or warn of an incoming attack. Huge weapon systems on the space station can cause massive damage to incoming invaders. A fighter wing of small ships can keep the enemy far enough away from the space station that it doesn’t get injured from the battle or buy time to activate the weapons on the station or satellites. During times of war a rotating battle group of ships could protect critical space stations. Half of the ships are docked at the space station for repairs and relaxation while the other half is on patrol around the station.
Space stations can have much of the same components as space ships, but they also have many unique needs which we have to keep in mind as we create our fictional space stations. As space stations are often strategically important locations for opposing governments, it’s best to provide heavy protection against losing control of the station.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What Engineering Needs Does Your Station Need?

I’ve already spoken about the engineering needs on a ship but let’s talk about the engineering needs on a space station. Space stations don’t need engines, as by definition they are stationed in one place, but they still need electricity and a lot of it. There are many ways to create electricity and with a space station you have more space to create a larger power plant than a ship that needs to pass quickly through space can handle. You may choose to have small power plants nearby entertainment rooms that need more electricity than most rooms, such as Star Trek’s “halodecks” or casinos in space. Even movie theaters in space would need more power than a typical room on the space station. Something else you may want to keep in mind when deciding the engineering needs of a space station is how useful a backup power supply is. If power goes out on a space station and there is no backup, it would be a disaster. Most tools in the future will run on electricity of some kind. Batteries may work for a while but only for so long. Also, things like life support and food would quickly get used up on a station of over a thousand people with no new air and most stations hold more than a thousand people as the skeleton crew to run the space station. It would probably be best to have a separate power plant that runs the vital systems separate from a system that can be overtaxed by commercial needs and possibly blow quite often, depending on what ship is in port and how much people try to squeeze from the system to make a little more money.
One last note on the engineering needs of a space station: although stations may not use engines, many seem to need thrusters at times to maintain orbit around the planet they often orbit. Thrusters are much easier to supply and maintain so you may want to think about where they are located to get the best and fastest movement in an emergency.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is the Purpose of Your Fictional Station?

What your fictional space station is used for dictates how it looks, to an extent, as well as what rooms are needed.
If your station is a hospital it probably has the typical hospital colors, depending on your species, and you’ll have to decide how typical hospital wings are worked into your design. Does your station look like a building with different squares coming off the center diagnostic area or are the sick children merely put on different floors than the dying adults or pregnant mothers? A hospital would likely have less of a need to have a huge Operations Department but the Administration Department may be the second biggest Department below the Medical Department on your station. If your station is a trade hub it may have a huge diplomatic area or business area with a few hotel variations but a small group of people caring for and running the weapons while a large department runs the docks, keeping ships on schedule and paying their dues. If your station is an amusement park in space, you are going to need a lot more electricity and hotel areas than if your station was merely a port to stop in to repair broken parts before continuing on to the next port. Each type of station would play a part in how it looks and how big it is as well. A child’s amusement park may look like a cartoon character’s head while an adult’s amusement park may look like another part of a person’s anatomy, depending on the species, and the repair port may not look too pretty but have cranes sticking out of the station at every angle.
As you decide the purpose of your fictional space station remember to keep in mind the effect it will have on everything else onboard, such as the look of the station from space and engineering needs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thoughts on Creating a Space Station

We’ve spoken of the various rooms and programs you need to think of in creating your fictional space ship as well as speaking earlier about creating a new planet and society. Now let’s look at the last major challenge for a science fiction writer to create: the space station. Generally a space station is bigger than a space ship but it still needs the same rooms as a space ship, at least for the basics. Even if your story is based around a single space ship and its crew, remember that every ship needs to pull into a port sometime, even if only to repair or refuel. In a reality based story your crew would likely pull into a port somewhere at least once every two years, probably closer to twice a year at least, unless they are in a hostile area or repair and refuel on planets. If you are writing the story of a single ship, then you may think that these next few posts aren’t worth your time and maybe they aren’t. Depending on the type of station your fictional ship pulls into, you may not want to think about a number of the coming posts, but it may be smart to plot out the ideas in the coming posts for your story before continuing. You never know what room your characters may walk into.
There are many different types of space stations and you need to decide which one you’re going to write about. Is your fictional station merely a repair hub with a single restaurant and a lounge to offer crews passing through or is it a full out pleasure port with little desire to repair or refuel ships? Is it a military center on the outskirts of civilization designed to bring order on the borders that is well known for the rowdy nightlife designed for crews far from home or is it the political center of an empire where everyone is well dressed and on their best behavior? Is it a trade hub with an established community including children and kept nice and tidy or is it little more than a hole-in-the-wall station known as the last step of the careers of anyone sent to take control of the rundown meeting place? Is your station a child’s dream, like a future Disney World, or is an adult’s dream, no children allowed, or somewhere in between? I decision is yours and will depend on what your story calls for but there is one more idea I’d like to suggest: the government facility. Governments often put their secret projects in a deserted area in space where people are less likely to stumble upon them than on limited planet space the government may have. These stations are often prisons or research facilities for anything from disease studies to weapon studies to scientific research on nearby space phenomenon to vaults of research started but deemed too dangerous or unethical to continue. Imagine the fun you could have if a ship in need of emergency repairs pulls into an off limits station, either by accident or on purpose. Those in control of the station would need to imprison the crew or convince them that the station was really just a rundown station with nothing of interest, nothing at all to keep the crew there any longer than necessary. Of course, the station really could be the major hospital station it pretends to be instead of the medical research laboratory it really is doing illegal research on unwilling patients.