Human have begun colonizing the solar system using the ablative laser microwave drive, our next target is Proxima Centauri and inbetween there is basically nothing except dust and occasional asteroids which is entirely avoidable even with blindfold. What can be the reason to install plain windows onboard when almost every spacecraft is running on autopilot? The journey might span several decades... as usual no FTL nor cryogenic freezing etc you get the drift.

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    $\begingroup$ The same reason airliners have windows in the passenger cabins :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 12, 2016 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ If there is light inside the spacecraft, you won't necessarily be able to see anything at all outside anyway. Compare Examination of Apollo Moon photographs: Absence of stars (or Google for something like apollo stars in photos for a variety of pages discussing the same). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Oct 12, 2016 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ In Star Trek TNG S4E3 "Brothers", they are locked out of the bridge and know when the Enterprise leaves warp by looking out the window. $\endgroup$
    – mao47
    Dec 16, 2016 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you said "plain windows" which I'd ideally say avoid because of radiation problems among others (long term, you will want something thick to keep cosmic radiation out and the window may not be shielded. Though I believe putting a few feet of water in the window can provide transparent radiation protection too... so there's solutions. I think.), but you might want a couple in special areas just for recreational observation or final approach navigation... in general though, I'd like simulated windows: HDTVs built into the wall showing a feed from an outside camera. Could be convincing. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2017 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ I like the viewscreens+cameras approach, but if you're looking for a reason to include good old-fashioned glass-only windows, one reason might be that they can't [easily] be hacked. Nothing ruins a colonist's day like finding out that the star he's been watching slowly draw closer for the last 30 years of his life was actually just a faked computer image, and in reality the ship has gone somewhere else entirely, or never left Earth orbit, or etc. Building in some real windows allows the passengers and crew to double-check that their AI isn't lying to them :) $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2020 at 4:48

4 Answers 4


If there's no FTL or cryogenics involved, there's going to be real people living on these ships. Most people don't deal well with feelings of claustrophobia; they're going to want to see outside every so often. Windows are a cheap and effective way of doing that; unless I'm mistaken, the ISS and the space shuttles all have windows to some degree. Seriously, the mental health of passengers and crew is something really important to consider; you don't want the guy repairing a leak to be badly sleep-deprived or paranoid as the result of such concerns.

Windows can also make for one form of failsafe in the event of sensor failure. Granted, if you actually have to rely on visual contact to navigate you're probably doomed already, but having an open observation deck with a few telescopes would be a good idea (as long as it's possible to seal it off from the rest of the ship in the event of a serious breach).

If you want more details, take a look at my answer to this question, which is concerned with the practicality of having exposed bridges (bridges with windows) on combat vessels. It would also be worthwhile to look at the other answers there.

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    $\begingroup$ Apollo 13 used window navigation after sensor fail. There is precedent! $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 12, 2016 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ Windows are not cheap and easy, they are extremely complex and heavy compared to the rest of the hull. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Oct 12, 2016 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM The Apollo spacecraft were designed from the beginning for optical navigation and spacecraft attitude alignment. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Oct 12, 2016 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't say they were easy... only that there is precedent for this being of value to a spacecraft -- valuable enough to be worth the engineering effort -- and so provides a plausible reason why a future craft would still retain them. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ In any manned space operation, the people are the final back-up when all other systems fail. They need to see. $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Jul 6, 2020 at 16:26

There is no compelling reason to have many windows in an interplanetary space ship. Windows add weight, complexity and possible points of failure, and should be avoided as much as possible.

However, there have been times where windows have proved useful for monitoring the vessel itself. Apollo 13 noticed the venting of some gas into space, providing a major clue as to what had happened and the seriousness of the event. They used reports of the position of the venting gas to help determine what it was that was leaking (they also used the thrust effects from this gas on the vehicles attitude to estimate the source).

On the ISS, commander Chris Hadfield noticed through a window that flakes of something were departing from the station. This turned out to be an ammonia coolant leak.

It can be assumed that astronauts on your vessel will need to make periodic spacewalks, to perform maintenance. It may be worth the cost of the window to be able to observe them directly from inside.

It's arguable that video cameras would provide most of the above functionality. For stellar navigation, and monitoring of the destination as it approaches, telescopes penetrating or mounted on the outside of the hull would suffice, but a window or two would provide a nice backup.

Humans, being humans, probably want a few windows to look out of, just to look out of. Psychology onboard a very long endurance mission is very important, and will in some cases override pure engineering arguments. One observatory, and a few strategically placed portholes would probably be acceptable.


The same reason we like a cloudless night: the stars are pretty. And when they do reach Proxima, humans will want to look at it.

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    $\begingroup$ Spacecraft can use external telescope to get false color of the star without exposing themselves to harmful radiation. I'm looking for a technical reason instead of aesthetic effect... $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Oct 12, 2016 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ as @Palarran also noted in their answer, a risk of someone going into psychotic breakdown and damaging the ship is not infinitesimal; the crew must remain functional at all times, so there should be a real viewport. $\endgroup$
    – kagali-san
    Oct 12, 2016 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ User6760 makes a reasonable point: If the screen is sufficiently high res, humans won't be able to tell the difference between a screen and glass. There are TVs already on the market that can display images indistinguishable from reality. I answered on the assumption that the ship had windows, so what's the reason, not looking for things that would invalidate them being there. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 12, 2016 at 4:10

People have mentioned passengers wanting to see out and the useful ability to be able to quickly see if there's anything wrong with the outside of the ship, but we're forgetting something vital here - navigation.

Sure, you're in space and there's going to be a fancy computer doing all the legwork, but in the event of a failure you need a last resort option. Even today, ships at sea should have a compass and someone who knows how to use a sextant. You can actually use similar methods to navigate in space, Michael Collins had a sextant on board Gemini 10 for this very reason (although due to atmospheric conditions it was ineffective). There's also Apollo 13, where Jim Lovell controlled an acceleration burn simply by lining up the Earth and the Sun in his window.

There would be no worse fate than suffering a navigation systems failure and knowing that you had the expertise on board to get from A to B, but without any way of looking outside.


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