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Imagine a space battle between two warships without inertial dampeners. Obviously the ships would be limited to perhaps 4 gravities of prolonged acceleration, and could only perform short bursts of movement at higher accelerations, since the human body is a fragile thing. Even so, the forces involved at even these accelerations could be lethal if crew members were not properly protected.

Pilots/bridge-crew would likely be strapped into cushioned chairs to protect them from the myriad forces that would otherwise toss them about as the ship maneuvers. Other crew members, however, might have need of mobility in order to perform their jobs aboard the ship. Maintenance personnel and damage control teams, for example, would need to move around the ship in the middle of an engagement to put out fires and close hull breaches and do whatever they do.

So the question is: how can the more mobile crew members be kept safe against the motions of the ship as it bucks and tosses itself around while still allowing them to move and perform their duties?

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  • $\begingroup$ How much agility are you looking at? If you can spin the craft such that all turns "feel" like they are down, that makes your life a lot easier. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 12 '16 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ How are you dealing with gravity? Magnetic boots? Raw Mass? Star-Trek? How basic walking is achieved will affect the answer. $\endgroup$ – Tezra Oct 12 '16 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Tezra as far as I understand the question is actually about what you're asking - how do they move $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Oct 12 '16 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Tezra During cruising, "down" would be achieved via the acceleration of the ship. Architecturally, the "floors" would be oriented perpendicular to this vector, so the ship would feel sorta like a skyscraper boosting upward. In combat, that would be unreliable since maneuvers could move the ship in any direction and would knock people off their feet and throw them against walls and so forth. $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Oct 12 '16 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I was hoping for something along the lines of walking to running speed, just like if the ship did have inertial dampeners, but if any motion at all is possible that would be better than nothing. As for the spinning: that would help, but my worry is that any maneuvers the ship performs might knock people around inside even if there is a prevailing force acting upon them. $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Oct 12 '16 at 18:52
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powered_exoskeleton

A powered exoskeletons would allow the crew to move around under higher accelerations, it could dampen the forces exerted on the individual and allow them to move against forces that an unreinforced human could not. They would likely need some form of enhanced gripping to the deck surfaces as well to resist the changes in acceleration likely for a space battle, magnetic is my first thought, but this could also be a pneumatic system (suction cup like) or even a gripping hand like foot.

You could of course go full robot, controlled via tele-presence by humans in nice comfortable acceleration pods, but this would be vulnerable to failures in communications systems or other ships systems, and anyway not as cool as power armor.

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  • $\begingroup$ The next thing to figure out is how to avoid passing out, but the exoskeleton seems like a fantastic way of doing a lot of these protective actions easily. $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Oct 12 '16 at 19:20
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"Prepare for evasive maneuvers!"

If your ship is large enough to have a significant crew compliment that must remain on their feet during combat, that ship is going to have a lot of mass (and hence, a lot of resistance to acceleration). You've tagged this question and , so I'm going to assume you don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole of fantastic sci-fi. Thus, without inertial dampeners, it's not just the people that are going to experience large accelerations, it's the ship itself (probably at least in the hundreds of tonnes), so that will put limits on how much force you can apply. Sure, you could add reinforcement to the ship, but that adds mass, which will slow you down, too.

Anyway, the strategy here isn't too different from most sci-fi where someone will shout, "prepare to go hard to port". It's not like the conn needs to prepare to turn the wheel they're already holding in their hand, but it gives everyone else a chance to hang on to something.

Now, at sustained 4g, humans are still going to need some kind of mechanical help to stay in one place. Could you lift four times your body weight for several seconds at a time by hanging on to a safety rail with one hand while you tighten bolts with the other? I can't. There would need to be some safety protocols (and it'd be easy to add some automated audio warnings and interlocks so that if you need to do a 4g turn and your engine officer isn't strapped in, the engine won't fire until she is (or until someone overrides the warning).

Really, 4g is just too much sustained acceleration for humans to do much else than sit/stand strapped in and push buttons.

Magnitude vs. direction

As you know, acceleration is a vector, meaning it has direction. One thing you can do to help your crew is to put your bridge, and possibly other departments like engineering, your med bay, etc., into spherically rotating shells that can self-align themselves with the direction of travel. You mentioned something similar to this for straight-line travel in a comment, but it can be extended to any acceleration if you can design things around spherical pods. At least that way, you can ensure that acceleration is always "back" (or "down", although humans tend to tolerate higher sustained g loads better if they are front-to-back). You'll have to make sure consoles, screens, and supplies all swivel with the crew, but it might help a bit. Departments with large, immovable things that need to be fixed, like the main engines, will be difficult, but those are cases where repairs will probably have to wait until you're done making maneuvers. After all, 4g is a lot of acceleration to expect someone to do physical work with moving parts, bolts flying all over the place, etc.

What about weapons impacts?

If we're talking about sudden impacts from weapons hits that are powerful enough to lurch your entire, massive ship hard enough to throw crew around, but not hard enough to blow massive holes in your hull, I want to tour your shipyards! In seriousness, once your ship leaves drydock, there isn't much you can do about unpredictable impacts but strap in and hope for the best. From a design point of view, you want to deflect as much of the incoming energy as possible, and depending on the weapons used, that could mean lots of sharp angles, or maybe you have some kind of deflector shielding or something. If you have to absorb all of the energy, then all that energy will go into some combination of damage, heat, and acceleration.


In closing, as long as your captains insist on regular safety harness drills so the crew can strap themselves in quickly when the order to turn sharply (or go to battle stations) comes across the intercom, the ship can still make some rather evasive maneuvers while keeping the crew reasonably protected. The rest of my answer goes into some of the finer details.

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    $\begingroup$ Man, that rotational pod idea is genius. $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Oct 12 '16 at 20:03
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A possible solution is to go with no interior gravity. If the crew is floating on the interior during battle they could wear 'jet' packs linked to the ship's computers that would automatically fire to correct the trajectory of the crewmember relative to turns the ship is making. This could require an extra dense, inflamable environment in the ship during these maneuvers, so perhaps they have to do something like flood the relevant control pods and wear a full space/SCUBA suit. People/things in nonessential areas could just be tethered. Operating in water like this could allow far more than 4 G turns. These suits could be highly pressurized in a way similar to modern fighter pilot suits. According to Wikipedia these suits allow turns up to 9 G's.

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    $\begingroup$ Just imagine an explosion propagating through your liquid filled ship. Additionally, imagine springing a hole. Doesn't seem practical. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Oct 12 '16 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I don't mean the entire ship, I'm only envisioning a few select areas where motion is critical. You do raise a good point that they would need some sort of additional protection/shielding. This is not so different than the problem a submarine crew faces if their ship is breached. Surrounding such an area with a small vacuum could protect against explosive wave propagation. $\endgroup$ – Mathily Oct 12 '16 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ Why not just use compressed air 'jet' packs or fan packs to move in normal, breathable air? You could achieve the same effects without the need to flood the compartment with flame (and human) suffocating fluids. $\endgroup$ – Mike DiBaggio Oct 19 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeDiBaggio I thought about that, but had two major concerns: 1) The increased viscosity of a liquid would make it easier for a motor to prevent you from flying across the room, it would help hold you in place on its own. Admittedly it would make it harder for you to move quickly across the room, but the salient concern seemed to be the workers being flung into walls. 2) Air doesn't provide much of a barrier to the blast from a compressed air pack. I had some concern that such a setup would seem likely to damage the computers/interfaces/etc. in the room. $\endgroup$ – Mathily Oct 20 '16 at 14:10
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The simple answer is that you don't. Human crewed ships would be a long way from the front lines and moving in controlled and regular fashions. Think aircraft carriers, drone carriers, etc. If dramatic maneuvers in a crewed ship were needed then the crew would be strapped into special pods, probably wrapped in cushioning gell, and most likely still unconscious for anything more.

The "ships" actually doing the fighting would be unmanned drones with reflexes thousands of times faster than humans and capable of accelerating far harder. I suggest reading Peter F Hamilton's "Nights Dawn" trilogy for an excellent example of this sort of combat, their drones being referred to as Combat Wasps.

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Any ship large enough for Gs to be a problem is either small and fast (like a fighter, crew 1) or a Capital Ship trying to be agile. The later doesn't really work well. (Force = Mass X Accel aka Accel = Force / Mass; so the amount of energy to move a capital ship is enormous)

So basically, a Capital ship would almost never have the power to make any kind of maneuver to dodge incoming attacks. It would be far more cost effective to use the ships own mass as its 'inertial dampener' and than configure the weapons and armor to be able to attack all side simultaneously (similar to their design in space fighting games). This capital ship would then be able to deploy a number of fighters to take care or the finer threats. The crew than would just need a safe way to move about the ship (like guide rails with 'auto-pilot' handles). And then You could have Escort ships (crew ~5) that are sturdier than fighters, but able to maneuver better than capital ships.

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