Most sci-fi is bullshit handwavery.

Said the guy who’s trying to write science fiction.

Anyway, as a friend pointed out a little while ago when I was bemoaning the lack of practical airlock technology among the available DAZ 3D digital models that claim to be “sci-fi airlocks” and suchlike:

Sadly, for you, sci-fi is replete with sliding airlock doors, starting all the way back in 1968 with “2001” (and maybe earlier). It makes sense if you have a minimum of interior space for doors to swing, I suppose, but really, it’s all because it looks cooler and more futuristic onscreen 😉

The sad part is that he’s not wrong.  I quibble with when he thinks the sliding door craze started, though.  But what I responded to him was as follows:

See, I don’t really give a shit what sci-fi is replete with, because half the trouble with sci-fi is nobody wants to think outside the box anymore.  Star Trek set the sliding-door standard in 1966 and damn near everyone has riffed off that ever since.  Meanwhile…does the ISS use sliding doors that go “swish” when you get close to them?  No, the ISS uses standard swinging hatches just like every other spacecraft we’ve ever put into space.

But let’s consider the efficacy of sliding doors in spacecraft, just for fun.

The problem with sliding doors is that they require an equal amount of reserved space in the wall for them to slide into.  That’s a wall section you can do nothing else with.  You can’t run wire or plumbing through it, you can’t run air ducts through it, etc.  Maybe they can get away with that in the Enterprise, but my ships are smaller than that.

Another problem is that to get to the mechanism, you have to tear into the wall or provide an access panel.  More expense either way.

Another problem is that the rails or sockets the door slides in/on WILL get gunked up with dust and cruft (I don’t care how clean the air supposedly is aboard ship, you can’t afford to filter all that out) and will require constant maintenance (more expense).

Another problem is that you’ll have a hell of a time with airtight seals.  In my ships, the technology is new enough that nobody wants to mess with that, it’s simpler to swing a door shut on an exposed gasket and dog it tight if you’re in a decompression scenario.  And such doors can be rigged to swing shut on their own if decompression is experienced.

A big swinging door only requires two or three large hinges and a place to swing it to.  It can be easily serviced, and inspection of its operating and sealing mechanisms takes a tiny amount of time.

This goes along with my insistence that the ships have hard-wired mechanical controls rather than touch-screens working through computers.  The issues the US Navy has had with touch-screen controls in naval vessels just in the last few years indicates they really aren’t suited for real-world naval applications (and they are planning to tear them out and install controls with tactile feedback, in other words, buttons, switches, joysticks, etc.).  And the Constellation-class frigates in my stories are warships first.  Shit just has to work, first time, every time.

My guess is that spacecraft will resemble submarines in space for a long, long time.  Because it’s airtight, pressure-vessel technology we already know how to build.

Yes, I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about this 🙂  I strongly believe the future – at least, the near future, a century or so out – will still look a lot like the present.

And I still want the flying car I was promised.

For what it’s worth, it just occurred to me that the BuShips Procurement section is going to have to have software that not only can determine whether a piece of furniture or equipment can fit into a cabin or other working space on board the ships, but also whether or not that piece of furniture or equipment can even be transported from the ship’s main airlock to the room it’s intended to be part of.  What if it won’t fit through an interior airlock?  What if it won’t make it around a tight corner?  “Sorry, sir, but that 20 foot solid oak conference table top you want for your briefing room, while it does fit into the room, won’t fit through the corridors and up the lift shafts or ladderways between the outside of the ship and your briefing room. As far as we can get with it is main engineering, the hangar deck, or the enlisted mess.”

“The enlisted mess?”

“Yeah, it’s right across from the hangar deck.  Secondary purposes are medical triage and holding area for crew evacuation, so the doors match up across the corridor….”

In Star Trek, they’d handwave that away by transporting the tabletop into the room.  Voila.  But most of us don’t have that technology.  And “build the ship around the table” doesn’t work when you are building the ship in orbit; you’re not going to carry an expensive finished oak tabletop into space and leave it sit in vacuum until the ship is sealed.  Not unless you want to be on the captain’s shit list for the rest of time.  And even if you pack it in a pressurized container, nobody actually does shit like that.  You have to furnish the ship with things that will fit through the airlocks and the corridors.  And the captain is going to have to settle for a sectional conference table.  Or, “Well, sir, we have a plasma cutter down in Engineering…”

Do SF writers even think about this shit?

Probably not.  They probably just figure the ship came with it, they don’t question how it got there.

“Why is there a watermelon there?”

“I’ll tell you later.”