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Would a mid-sized transport spaceship (able to carry up to two hundred people, including crew and a fair amount of supplies - enough to survive in space for up to a couple of weeks, if need be) have a cockpit or a bridge? I suppose it's my call, but I'm trying to be realistic in my first draft. I welcome examples from real life, earthbound ships and scifi. I've tried running my own search but Google is a black hole when it comes to questions like this one.

For context, the ship primarily transports passengers between several gargantuan, low Earth orbit space stations and a moon base. Thanks for any help you can offer, and please be gentle on me. I've watched many space-based shows & movies and read a bit of space opera but want to be as realistic as I can.

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    $\begingroup$ "realistically" basically all spaceships will have bridges because there is no reason for a spaceship to have a human pilot (commander, navigator, etc sure, but no pilots). Even the most basic computer can do the job better in almost every way $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 20 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ Neither. Quarterdeck. $\endgroup$ – DrMcCleod Nov 20 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ Command Station? $\endgroup$ – Mon Nov 21 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ On Space.SE, we call it the flight deck. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Nov 21 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ IT also depends on design. Do the people need to move to/from their stations and how often do they need to do that? Do they need to stay in that position for a long time? If they need to move and need comfort, "bridge"/control room is better. If they need to stay in place for brief (several hours max) high-intensity stuff then cockpit is better. $\endgroup$ – mishan Nov 21 at 16:27

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It depends on how space ships operate in your universe. When they operate more like maritime ships (like they do in the Star Trek universe, for example), then "Bridge" would be appropriate. When they work more like aircraft, then "Cockpit" might be more appropriate. Which is why some space operas use "bridge" for large crafts (which behave analogue to naval ships) and "cockpit" for smaller crafts (which operate analogue to planes).

But when you want your spacefarers to inherit from neither naval nor aviation tradition and instead see their roots in 20th and 21st century space programs, then they might prefer the term "command module". That term also works for stations. The Zvezda module of the ISS is sometimes referred to as the command module of the station.

Another option: The piloting area of the Space Shuttle was called the "Flight Deck", so that would also be a term you could use. It would make most sense when "Deck" is also used as terminology to separate other sections of the vessel.

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    $\begingroup$ I would also argue it depends on how many people occupy the control center. 2-4? Cockpit. 5+? Bridge. Put differently, is the ship flown by a "pilot" and assistants, or by a "captain" and crew? Note also that a "pilot" will generally control (most of) the ship directly, while a "captain" will generally control the ship through the crew. (But captains can also be pilots... usually not the other way around, though.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 20 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ I would say this sounds more like a shuttle craft or a passenger plane, so cockpit would be appropriate here. While the "Captain" of both the comercial plane and a naval ship has the same authorities by aviation and naval law, its generally a cockpit is a small room with little space while a bridge is a much larger space with a large amount of standing room. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Nov 20 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the term ‘flight deck’ is mostly a synonym for ’cockpit’ in the aviation world. AIUI the distinction is similar to the differentiation between a wheelhouse/pilothouse and a bridge in a naval context $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Nov 20 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ How about this difference - if you can walk around comfortably on a floor, then its a bridge. If you have to get lowered into a seat then its a cockpit. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Nov 21 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinHemmelgarn But on the Ishirmura, flight deck = hangar $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Nov 21 at 2:23
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As a rough guide:

If its a vehicle with a single person in charge who is also a controller, even if this person has a couple of subordinates: Cockpit (or cab sometimes) Example: cars, trains, planes up to 747. Boats where the captain is also the steersman. Somewhat implies that here is only one steersman, although they may have a relief. Like a 747, which frankly should have a bridge not a cockpit!

If its a vehicle with a person in charge who is NOT an operator: Bridge
Example: any boat where the captain is not a steersman. Especially the bigger ones.

If its a vehicle that does more than just vehicle around, it will have an operation center. Which may or may not be co-located with the bridge, which only cares about the vessel itself. Example: Aircraft carrier. Missile cruiser. Fleet coordinator.

In your case, a "mid-sized transport spaceship (able to carry up to two hundred people)" would definitely have a bridge. It would have one captain, and one steersman position filled by different people in shifts. Unless you presuppose a LOT of automation, to the point where a single person can handle the navigation & steering & etc of the ship 24/7.

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    $\begingroup$ 747s don't really have particularly large crew needs -- in fact, newer 747s (-400 and -8 models) are flown by two people, just like any other modern airliner (airlines will fly with relief/"heavy" crews due to flight/duty time limits, but that doesn't count). Older Russian jetliners would carry 4 to 5 in the cockpit.... $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Nov 21 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ "...although they may have a relief. Like a 747, which frankly should have a bridge not a cockpit!" Or like pretty much every airliner ever, should they all have a "bridge"? $\endgroup$ – Aetol Nov 21 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ Last I heard, airliners had "flight decks" $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai -him- Nov 23 at 19:59
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I always read about "control rooms" in old science fiction stories.

I hate the term "flight deck" for some reason. Maybe because it seems too British and too areonautical for a vehicle which operates totally outside of any atmosphere. I prefer the term "cockpit" for airplanes. But much less for large scale spaceships.

After watching a lot of Star Trek I am used to the term "bridge". However, it seems a bit too nautical for vehicles which operate in outer space far from the surface of any body of water.

I note that modern warships are commanded from the CIC, not the bridge, which is only concerned with steering the vessel.

A combat information center (CIC) or action information centre (AIC) is a room in a warship or AWACS aircraft that functions as a tactical center and provides processed information for command and control of the near battlespace or area of operations. Within other military commands, rooms serving similar functions are known as command centers.

CICs were inspired by science fiction:

The idea of such a centralised control room can be found in science fiction as early as The Struggle for Empire (1900). Early versions were used in the Second World War; according to Rear Admiral Cal Laning, the idea for a command information center was taken “specifically, consciously, and directly” from the spaceship Directrix in the Lensman novels of E. E. Smith, Ph.D.,[3] and influenced by the works of his friend and collaborator Robert Heinlein, a retired American naval officer.[4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat_information_center[1]

And possibly a passenger transport vessel might have some sort of OIC (Orbital Information Center) keeping track of the orbits of functioning satellites, dead satellites, space stations, space ships in transit, space debris, meteroids, etc. for hundreds of thousands of miles around the ship as it travels in Earth orbits and to the Moon.

But to me it is most natural to think of the command center (another prossible term) of a space ship as the "control room", or some similar term like "control chamber" or "control cabin".

And possibly different characters could tease each other by using different terms for the command center that they know will annoy the others.

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  • $\begingroup$ "it seems a bit too nautical for vehicles which operate in outer space far from the surface of any body of water" ...I can name any number of "space navies" (y'know, that call themselves a "navy") that would take issue with this 😉. For that matter, I think even Stargate (SG1) used "bridge", and they're based on the air force! OTOH, I like the sound of "control cabin"... and using the "wrong term" in-universe! 😁 $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 20 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway, the navy thing isn't that insane... there are quite some similarities in terms of how ships must operate that are shared whether you're talking about space ships or old sailing ships. And on the subject of CICs, Honorverse has them, but they're responsible for getting information to the captain on the bridge... so those could go either way. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 20 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Planes typically operate away from base or carrier for couple of hours and then return to resupply, refuel and let crew rest. Even stand-by nuclear strategic bombers with mid-air refuelling didn't exceed 2 days non-stop flight time. Meanwhile, ships do and always have operated away from bases for weeks or even months at a time. In in this way space ships are more akin maritime ships: self contained vessel designed to spend weeks or months away from base. Another similarity is: neither space nor marine ships keep their engines running constantly, planes do. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Nov 21 at 23:04
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I think the difference is whether the captain is in direct control of the ship as the pilot, which indirectly correlates to ship and crew size:

  • Captain is the pilot with direct control = cockpit
  • Captain giving orders instead of being directly control the ship = bridge
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If the location is a small enclosed space where the commanding officer (and perhaps one or two others) directly controls the vessel and all or at least a majority of vessel navigational, communication, and engine control functions without having to move from their position at the controls, it is a cockpit. Not just aircraft, but boats have them as well. If the location is a larger space where multiple people are expected to be on a routine basis to carry out operations, and the commanding officer does not (the majority of the time) directly control the vessel, it is a bridge.

There is, of course, a gray area. On modern automated bridges a single person can control almost everything from one console, but it's still generally called a bridge if you can get up and walk around without interfering with vessel control.

The benchmark I'd use is the "being able to walk around" part. To use Star Trek and Star Wars examples, in the cockpit of a Starfleet shuttle or the Millennium Falcon if you tried to stroll around, the pilot (who is typically also the vessel's officer in command) will get annoyed because you're physically getting in their way. On the bridge of a Star Destroyer or a starship, you can move around without interfering with anyone carrying out their duties, and the officer in command isn't the one in direct control of the ship (most of the time). Related to it is that on a bridge you typically must be able to move around to get to different controls because they aren't all accessible from a single position.

For example, if you look at luxury yachts, this would be a cockpit: enter image description here

All the controls are at one station, and aside from whoever is at the wheel and the person beside them (considered to be a co-pilot), you can't get in there without physically getting in the way. There isn't any way for anyone else except the two people in the cockpit seats to be able to do anything.

This, on the other hand, is a bridge: enter image description here

Lots of room to walk around and not interfere with operations, and the person at the wheel has to move around to control other basic functions such as the navigation and radar controls, which also means that while it could be controlled by a single person, it could also have several people able to carry out functions at the same time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is there a reason ship steering wheels are so vertical compared to car steering wheels? Also no place for your feet to go while still being up against the panel. Seems really uncomfortable. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Nov 21 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ Tradition. The way a ship's wheel originally worked was by means of a rope that wrapped around the wheel and went down through the deck. It worked like any belt or chain-driven system today so the wheel's axle had to be perpendicular to the rope which was transmitting the steering force. In a car, the force is transmitted straight through the axle by the steering column that has to go through at least one gear to change its direction, so the angle isn't as important. Although no longer necessary, that's simply the way they're designed these days. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Nov 21 at 18:06
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Well, this is a great question! I thought it sounded easy at first glance, but then I realised I actually had no idea...so I turned to our old friend Wikipedia. I'm sure you did this too and I am preaching to the choir, but here goes.

Cockpit comes from 'cockswain', and "referred to an area in the rear of a ship where the cockswain's station was located, the cockswain being the pilot of a smaller "boat" that could be dispatched from the ship to board another ship or to bring people ashore."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockpit

Whereas the term 'Bridge' apparently comes from an actual bridge on old time steam boats: "With the arrival of paddle steamers, engineers required a platform from which they could inspect the paddle wheels and where the captain's view would not be obstructed by the paddle houses. A raised walkway, literally a bridge, connecting the paddle houses was therefore provided. When the screw propeller superseded the paddle wheel, the term "bridge" survived.

Now, as to what term you should use in your story, well, it sounds like cockpit may be more true to form history-wise given you are talking about a type of smaller shuttle between larger craft, no?

As usual, I am completely prepared to be wrong - just offering my 2 cents worth.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_(nautical)

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. I'd suggest that the distinction is whether people can (or are encouraged to) move around while fulfilling their duties: a cockpit has seats or couches (plus an access space) while a bridge might even assume that people on duty are always on their feet. This does, of course, have interesting implications if there are going to be high-g manoevers. $\endgroup$ – Mark Morgan Lloyd Nov 20 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Totally. I guess that the original usage of the term 'bridge' - as per my wikipedia steal above - was all about the captain needing to maintain the ability to oversee the operation of both paddlewheel engines whilst at the same time being able to keep an eye on the river in front for submerged logs, sand bars, other vessels, etc. So, to be persnicketty for a moment, I hazard it isn't the mere ability of just being able to walk around, but that the functionality of the craft would be negatively impacted if you, as the captain, couldn't. $\endgroup$ – Adam Menhennett Nov 20 at 23:32
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Probably neither. There would be much less need for a specific bridge or cockpit area when systems are automated and monitoring can be carried out from various locations. There might be a central control screen to act as a psychological reminder that this is the place where any important flight decisions are made (abort options, initiate various engine fire operations etc).

More likely is an operations room (where the "bridge" screen might be located) where crew inside the ship can monitor crew outside the ship on EVA in space or on the surface acting as CAPCOM.

Ultimately it would be a matter of taste what such a room would be called. They could call it whatever they want, but in my view operations room would be a better fit than bridge or cockpit. Watch what happens to SpaceX and their Starship in the next few years, at some point you may well see a door, seat or screen labeled control room, bridge or cockpit. We shall see.

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Basically, if you're coming from the angle of realism and practicality, it all comes to size. Small enough ships just simply do not have enough room to have a proper shielded bridge inside of them, and\or designed to perform things that might actually need a cockpit functionality (I.e. a direct unobstructed view of where you are going), like landing on the planet plane-style or manual docking.

But for the big ships definitely only a bridge would do, and it obviously should be in the center of the vessel instead of stupidly be exposed on the outside, like too many shows to count sin.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that civilian vessels might pander to the human desire to "look out a window", but yeah, for military vessels, exposed bridges are indeed stupid. I think that tends to be ignored more often in visual mediums, probably for aesthetic / "rule of cool" / audience expectation reasons. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 20 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ While the civilian vessels might have portholes and windows, honestly fro 90% of the time there's just nothing to look at when you are in space. All those colorful pictures of nebulas are sadly lies, photoshopped from a mix of radiotelescope and x-ray images. Real space is just mostly pitch blackness and specks of stars. $\endgroup$ – Darth Biomech Nov 20 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @DarthBiomech But what about when you're in orbit over your conquered planet? I suppose a video screen floor would also do. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Nov 21 at 2:25
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First and foremost think about your target audience and what they would like. Do keep in mind that many times media miss the "target"group and land with an untargeted group. Me, I like Bridge. Any space vehicle that is capable of carrying up to 200 people is going to be large. Not withstanding just the humans, luggage, food, water, fuel, life support, more fuel, seating, more water, even more fuel and what ever else you (the author) decide this thing will be called Ship = Bridge, craft = control room/cockpit. Give yourself some time to think this through and maybe you will come up with the perfect name for it, a name that you invent. Good luck to you.

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Nomenclature

When you say cockpit, I automatically imagine a seated position cramped amongst the machinery in a small craft/fighter, whilst when you say bridge I imagine the space where the Capitan, navigator and pilot stay on a naval vessel. That is what every average joe is going to imagine when talking about that and that's what literature and TV have taught us over the years. I don't care it's might not be right, it is widely spread as such.

Use case angle

It all depends on HOW you work out your spaceflight. I'd say that for high-intensity short duration stuff the cockpit is better, and for low-intensity long duration stuff, the "bridge" is a better solution.

The cockpit

It's great for stuff that's high intensity highly autonomous and short duration. You don't want to be strapped there for hours on end, as it is a risk to your extremities and poses long term problems. You can have "gun operator" strapped in the turret for the duration of an engagement or a fighter pilot, but as a captain of a cargo ship going for days on end, it would be highly uncomfortable without the means to get out and refresh yourself.

The bridge/CIC

Better for low-intensity long time stuff and situations, where you're not sure about the number of people that might or might not be needed to make decisions at the time.

Imagine you need to have someone else (port official, tugboat navigator, diplomat,....) in the decisionmaking process that is not normally present and if everyone is communicating from their cockpit they have no reasonable means to intersect into the process without leaving some empty cockpits just for them.

It's easier to just make one "Command room"/"bridge" and let them come there and interact with the personell. You don't have to have every console on the bridge, but there needs to be a space where the "head honchos" and "leaders" can come together and communicate.

And the closing noncommital thoughts

All of this is of course dependent on just how you write your own fiction, you can have everyone in cryostasis operating the ship by connecting their brains to a network or you can have all of them in a "bridge full of capsules", where every capsule controls some subsystem. Or you can replicate the classical naval doctrine and have departments where they are needed and then have CIC if not everything is automated or the ship is REALLY large.

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