When it comes to research, experience is the key. But, how do you experience life on a starship? The simple answer is “you can’t.” So, this is where imagination and experience combine to create something wonderful. Let’s look at a starship about like a destroyer. In general, a destroyer is a hunter. She may have one or two cutters (rather like a “RIB” in today’s navy) but nothing like the kinds of craft available to a carrier. I think modeling her after an old Diesel submarine with a few modifications like some mass-driver turrets (kind of like an eight-inch gun), laser mounts, and missile tubes to replace the torpedo tubes. And, just for giggles, let’s say that it’s four reactor power plants (I use fusion plants, where the reactor creates a stabile micro-star in my stories) where there’s three required for power and one for failsafe. And it’s cramped. So cramped that you pretty much have breathing room only, with one shift racked, one shift either coming off or getting ready to go on, and one change at stations at all times, with almost zero privacy anywhere in the ship.
How about a cargo ship. We’ll say an armed trader, possibly a privateer, who has enough armor meant to stand up to a typical pirate. So, we have a ship with four holds spaced linearly along the spinal axis, with hold one and two being fore and three and four being aft. Fore and aft are two dual-barrel rail guns that can cover an 360° around and an arc of -20° to +80° and eight dual-barreled laser mounts with 360° by 80° arc from each point. The bridge and crew quarters are located about midship, as are the power plants.
Now, for those who don’t know, I’m using the USS Pampanito (SS-383) as the base for the destroyer. I figure she would be pretty close to the living conditions on a destroyer-type starship. And, for my armed merchant ship, I used the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. Now, most of my assessments for the destroyer are based on my observations of the Pampanito, while my views and ideas for the cargo ship are specifically thanks to one particular paid employee of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien who shared a lot of her history with my boyfriend and I while we were exploring the ship. My thanks to you, sir, for sharing her history and some of her story with us, though I fear I forgot your name to credit you as is proper.
What I did here was to take these two ships and use them as a basis for the design and mixed a few extra elements to make it a space vessel instead of a sea vessel. That’s the key to making things real. Make it just real enough to tickle the imagination while making it just fantastic enough to make it otherworldly.
I also went on both the History Mystery Tour and a normal tour of the USS Hornet a few days later. The History Mystery Tour was fascinating, as we went all over the ship, including places typically closed off during regular hours like the Combat Information Center, with flashlights. It was creepy and fascinating listening to the stories. We also had reports of some personal experiences in our group, but we didn’t get any hard evidence of something odd. My own experience was like someone checked my pulse in Sickbay which was creepy as heck since I was going into surgery just a few days later.
Even more, experience to help with my writing includes exploring the old Battery Spencer, SF-88 Nike Missile Site, and the old forts near Mill Valley, California. It’s interesting how easy it is to make those emplacements work with orbital defense systems. The Nike site, for example, would be elementary to implement in an asteroid belt or on moons. Have a bunkered crew to operate it, and there are long-range defenses. Another interesting idea is a large rail gun to impart a significant initial
Using artillery, instead of the traditional chemical-explosive type propellant, I would figure rail guns would be the name of the game with kinetic projectiles (using a large mass moving at extreme velocity to generate a kinetic impact equivalent of high explosives) and specialty projectiles for specific applications that could be used as needed.
Oh, and if you make it to the San Francisco Bay Area, I would highly recommend taking the time to go on the tour of the USS Pampanito, USS Hornet, and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. Both these ships have a fascinating history, and both are well worth the time to visit. Oh, and the O’Brien is seaworthy and fully licensed. If you’re there on the right day and have some extra cash, you can even take a small cruise with her and her crew. (Author’s note: Saturday, October 7th at around 9:00 am PDT is one of the right days to take a cruise on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. Just thought I would drop that here.)