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Let's suppose anti-gravity/gravity-manipulation/telekinetic technology is found in the near future.

It allows to move large ships (thousands tons) into space from the surface of the Earth with relative ease.

However it comes with nasty side-effect - any electronic device within "field" is short-circuited.

Question is: Is it even viable to continue space exploration without electronics? Using human brain (crew) and mechanical devices and (if possible) chemical mechanisms?

There are obvious problems like navigation, communication, telemetry... Can they be overcome? Or gravity manipulation will be abandoned and people would look for another technology for space travel?

EDIT:

Thanks to commenters! As it was pointed out - electronics can be used when engines are turned off.

What if we increase difficulty a bit - engines ("field") can't be completely turned off (like nuclear reactors can't be stopped fast), or they need a long, energy consuming process of warming up/cooling down so it prevents to switch mode during spaceflight.

EDIT #2:

Thanks for comments! Main goal for question was to justify somehow consistently "advanced on planet civilisation and primitive space naval type battles like in the first half of 20 century", without cultural or law limitations. Probably i ll make another question with this specific goal.

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    $\begingroup$ Simple: leave electronic systems off until they reach space. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 30 '16 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ @G.ogre If you want answers to how to make spacecraft not use electronics, then I would recommend asking about that specifically rather than presupposing a given solution's specific side effects and asking how to work around those. Unless of course you already have your mind fully set on that drive system and its effects, and really want to work within its constraints. (After all, a big part of Worldbuilding SE is help maintain consistency.) "How can we accomplish space travel with large craft without electronics?" leaves the field open to alternative proposals that achieve your ultimate end. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 30 '16 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ The anti-gravity device itself is not electronic? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 30 '16 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ Don't be so fast to accept an answer! Give people a chance to post creative answers, and people in different time zones to weigh in. So 24 hours is a good time to wait. Accepting early discourages others from answering, and presumes that you win’t see a better one! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 30 '16 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ You can unaccept the answer if you want to. In fact, given that it's so soon after you posted the question, I'd almost recommend it. Feel free to vote up (or down, when you have the necessary reputation) as desired, but hold off on accepting an answer for at least a day, perhaps even two days, to as JDługosz said give people from different parts of the world a chance to chime in. High quality answers with well-researched citations can take a while to write! $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 30 '16 at 15:20
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Orbital mechanics isn't that difficult to work out if you have a background in mathematics. Just take a look at some equations on Wikipedia. You could do these by hand, or have a mechanical computer do the work. It won't be terribly accurate, but spacecraft on interplanetary trajectories routinely make correction burns despite their razor-thin fuel budgets. If you can easily haul a massive ship into space, you probably have enough of a fuel budget to be sloppy.

Flight control (Both navigation and ship control) is more difficult but solvable. Apollo featured a telescope to help it get its bearings, and given the primitive state of computers at the time it might not be too terribly difficult to come up with a mechanical counterpart. Your ship obviously can't be fly-by-wire, but if you keep the design simple and limit the number of thrusters (Or rather, keep all of the thrusters centralized along your primary axies, so they only impart one movement/rotation), you can greatly simplify the ships controls. For purposes of pilot comfort installing a mechanical autopilot that nulls out rotation is a good idea.

Radios might just be the easiest thing on this list - They've been around far longer than computers, and nothing about them requires electronics as we think of them today.

Now, a lot of people in your comments suggest just turning your electronics off. Assuming this doesn't work in your setting, you can launch the hull of your ship using your Anti-grav, and then send up conventional rockets with the electronics it's going to need. That said, a system that can cheaply and easily lift thousands of tons of spaceship into orbit is going to be a fantastic interplanetary engine, so you'll probably want to keep using it.

Final thing. I assume that it 'fries' electronics by inducing charge differences in the circuitry and creating damaging electrical arcs. What does it do to humans?

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  • $\begingroup$ About human brain, i assumed that EMP "fries" electronics but doesn't kill humans, or maybe i am wrong? If people are "fried" too that limits technology even further. $\endgroup$ – G.ogre Aug 30 '16 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ That reminds me of the craft launched in the future framing story (and final novel) in The Queendom of Sol series. It was all manual and steampunk. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 30 '16 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @G.ogre A simple way to explain real-world EMP is that a rapidly changing magnetic field induces an electric current in metal objects. The sudden surge of current is lethal to modern electronics because their literally microscopic circuitry melts under the surge. It also doesn't matter if it's off - if the EMP is powerful or close enough, the induced current will still be enough to damage the circuitry. Since your grav-engine is inside the ship with the electronics, I believe that qualifies as "close enough." As for humans, our brains aren't made of metal, so we don't incur magnetic effects. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Aug 30 '16 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @G.ogre That being said, if your drive has some other way of disabling electronics (Random electrical arcs inside the grav-field?) conventional EMP logic may not apply. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Aug 30 '16 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ You only need to postulate that the antigravity field generates a low-level electromagnetic "chatter" or "static" random noise that is strong enough to disable solid-state integrated circuits which are effectively today's electronics. Old-fashioned electrical systems might not be affected (perhaps). This could still allow radio & radar, but with valve technology. The Russians used valve technology on the ri space missions. These days it's all solid-state integrated circuits. Arcs & short circuits are crude fudges, just raise the noise level & electronics fails. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 31 '16 at 1:55
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Spaceflight was described in fiction as far back as the Victorian era (actually even farther back, but without any sort of technical or scientific understanding of space), so it is quite possible to imagine a "steampunk" spacecraft using mechanical and fluidic devices to run the systems, calculate the trajectory and so on. Even into the 20th century, the idea of manned spaceflight was predicted upon the need for a team of technicians to keep the equipment running and a human pilot to guide the spacecraft. The entire RoBo (Rocket Bomber) idea was based on the principle of a manned spacecraft to deliver an atomic bomb on target from space, since electronics (and of course mechanical computers) would not have the accuracy or ability to adapt during the very short mission. Now multiply by how many days a mission to the Moon or Mars would take, and you understand why von Braun's 1950 era conception of a Mars mission took a fleet of ships carrying 70 men.

enter image description here

USAF RoBo concept

enter image description here

vonBraun Mars Mission fleet

Really, the only thing that prevented a squadron of USAF rocket bombers becoming operational in the early 1970's (projected timeline) was the invention of the transistor and development of rugged and reliable microelectronics that could replace the pilot.

So if there is no development of microelectronics, then spaceships will need human crews doing jobs like astrogation, engineering and all the other tasks that a traditional ships crew is needed for.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow! Pretty much having entire space fleet is possible within "no-electronic setting". I realised that it is good to dig into 20s century real concepts that were abandoned due economic/political reasons , and that would pretty much enough! Thanks! $\endgroup$ – G.ogre Aug 30 '16 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't get this. You mention an idea from 1950, and that what prevented it from being implemented by 1970 was the invention of the transistor, but the transistor was conceived in 1926 and practically implemented in 1947! So there were practical transistors before the time that you mention. Also, von Braun was most certainly influental on both the German V-2 and the US space program, but certainly not the only person who influenced at least the US space program in the years leading up to the Apollo landing missions. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 30 '16 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ Widespread adoption of the transistor and the development of microcomputers compact and powerful enough to guide ICBM's took place in parallel to the development of the RoBo project in the 1950's, culminating in the X-20 Dyna Soar. By the time the Dyna Soar was almost ready for flight testing in 1963, the development of powerful minicomputers rendered the need for humans and pilots moot on ICBMs or spy satellites. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 31 '16 at 16:42
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Navigating and communicating through space should be doable by teams of people. They were doing it on the high seas for millenium before we took to the heavens. The problem with space though is that people like to eat, drink, breath, and not freeze to death. Navigation and communication doesn't work very well with dead people.

So you'd need a way to insulate the interiors from the cold exteriors and you'd need a way to produce oxygen and food/water. You could do both with large hydroponics chambers and a hydraulic system that powers circulation fans and ferries waste and clean water to appropriate locations. Recycling and reclamation technologies would need to be biological, self regulating, and highly efficient.

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Is it even viable to continue space exploration without electronics? Using human brain (crew) and mechanical devices and (if possible) chemical mechanisms?

Frank Herbert's Dune outlines a precedent for this. While it not completely denies the existence or function of basic electronics it establishes a strict rule against Artificial Intelligence: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." This chief commandment then in turn leads to the development and perfection of "human computers", the Mentats, claiming to being superior to the ancient thinking machines. One way to make space flight work is to replace simple electronics by other means, say pneumatics to control machinery, and have the "heavy computing" for navigation and telemetry done by improved human brains.

Going even further, the Spice, a substance to extend the human consciousness is used by the Guild Navigator for a heightened awareness and a prescient ability to see safe paths through space-time, thus allowing to navigate in space.

I will argue that in any case the power of the human brain (expanded consciousness or not) if harnessed properly beats steampunk mechanisms for any advanced calculations.

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Mechanical computers exist - assuming that the calculations are standard, you'd likely have standardised mechanical devices meant to do parts of calculation and do the rest by hand. Navigation/position taking with starcharts (which is where it gets complicated. these things would be bulky and depend on your region of space, and sextants for taking readings).

I like the idea of charts and a whole rack of numbered curtas - you have a manual telling you which ones to use and you'd basically start with #1, do calculations, pass on the values to a second and so on.

Something worth considering is the classic starships were small and cramped. Having to carry charts on paper and mechanical calculators might be something plotworthy, Perhaps having your navigator's quarters described as 6 walls of chained down books, and a wall of mechanical calculators, kept in zero G for easy access

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This is the computer that was actually on Apollo 11. It had 32k BITS of ram (not bytes! bits!) and about 600,000 bits of ROM (permanent memory, equivalent to a hard drive.), which is the same amount of information as about 50 pages of a printed paperback novel. You're not loosing that much by leaving it at home. All the math and calculation for that mission were done ahead of time.

As for communications, there were definitely radios before the transistor, and people did plenty of navigating by the stars while not having the technology of, say, metals.

In addition to strictly mechanical computers, there are some other possibilities. There are vacuum tubes. These can generally handle a significantly higher surge current than a tiny silicon chip, so perhaps they could be tough enough to handle the 'field' of your engines. Then you could basically say that vacuum tube technology has advanced so far, and set your computational abilities any way you like.

Also, there were computers that run on switches and relays. These are called electro-mechanical, and their design would make them even more resistant to the engine 'field'

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You want to investigate RUSSIAN science fiction from the 1950s. Isaac Asimov had some good translations of some of it that I read once... the Russians used mechanics the way we used electronics. Where we would have radio signals to communicate between Mars and Earth, they had high-speed rockets carrying cans of microfilm. Mechanical television is possible (British had a working model of that just before RCA made its big electronics breakthrough). There's a bunch of other examples I've heard of. So I think the answer is "yes, certainly."

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    $\begingroup$ "They actually built a Mach-1+ airplane out of wood to avoid our radar detection" Citation Needed. Partially cause it seems so damned cool and I'm curious. $\endgroup$ – Journeyman Geek Aug 31 '16 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ I spent all day trying to find it. I cannot. I will edit my answer to remove that since I cannot cite, but I do remember reading about it. $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 1 '16 at 3:07

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