I grew up spending considerable time in airports and on commercial passenger jets as a kid and even today I probably fly a little more time in the air than most people (but not much). This weekend, however, I had my first piloting lesson. In the US, you need a minimum of 40 hours with instructors before you can get a private pilot’s license. Well, 1 down. 🙂
Since then (and frankly long before as well, but I have a different prospective now), I have been thinking about what it would be like to pilot a ship out “in the black” as Firefly put it. I mean, sure, in the 58th Century when Traveller takes place in, it is probably mostly a simple operation of: entering your destination and telling the computer to alert you if anything enter a certain distance or if someone times to communicate with you. But what about much earlier days of space travel. You know, well after ships to the Earth and the Moon are common occurrences and Mars has several colonies. I’m talking a time frame when a cargo pilot is flying a shipment of refined fuel from Titan to Ganymede. When you take a family vacation to the Venus Cloud City Amusement Park. When mining the asteroid belt is seen as less a “risky venture” and more as a “normal job.” What would being a space pilot be like?
Here’s my thoughts. For the most part, it’ll be really uneventful. It’ll be really pretty staring into the blackness of space and gazing at the stars, but it is hardly going to be action-packed every minute of the day. When I was flying, the instructor explained enough of the instruments to me, but he also told me to simply pick a point on the horizon and fly toward that. Doing that I maintained a steady heading the entire flight, which is exactly what you want. I had to frequently correct since winds were blowing us off course but I didn’t need to constantly re-figure out my direction since I had a destination in mind. Something similar would happen in space, except there is less wind to throw you off course. If you are flying from Titan to Ganymede, for example, you can’t just fly towards Jupiter, since it is constantly orbiting the sun and you will have to make constant course corrections. The navigational computer will tell you which way Jupiter will be when you want to intercept it. Once on your heading, you are going to want to pick a star in your field of vision and use that as your guide. As long as that star is where it should be from your pilot chair, you won’t need to pay close attention to the computer for most of the trip.
Also you’ll have other duties as well, checking the ship’s radar for any incoming ships or meteoroids, listen to/reading the expected solar weather to make sure you don’t have to turn off all the ship’s electronics and go into Faraday Mode until the remnants of the flare passes, letting various rely stations know that you are passing through their space, just to name a few.
I just though that you would appreciate my take on piloting space.