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Old 10-22-2009, 09:55 PM
tracer tracer is offline
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Avoiding "ship" in spacecraft descriptions

I have a problem.

I am attempting to write a Hard SF story. It involves a couple of rather roomy spacecraft capable of interstellar travel, both of which are big enough to contain another, smaller spacecraft (a la Discovery's pods in 2001).

The obvious terms that spring to mind to describe these spacecraft are "starship" and "mothership".

But ...

I absolutely, positively detest the term "space ship." I want to avoid using the word "ship" in any form, in any association with any kind of spacecraft. It is my firm belief that the term "space ship" did more to damage and distort the image of what real space travel would be like than any other factor. (And, yes, I'm looking at you, Mr. E. E. "Doc" "Ships of Space" Smith!) The image of sea-farin' captains and their motley crews, sailing out of port for the unknown and uncharted, banging away at each others' wooden hulls with cannons, is about as far from what real space travel would be like as World of Warcraft is from the real Middle Ages.



So ...

What colloquial terminology would you use instead of "starship" or "mothership", which doesn't sound clunky or inobvious? ("Starcraft" and "mothercraft" sound just plain wonky.)

Last edited by tracer; 10-22-2009 at 09:58 PM.
  #2  
Old 10-22-2009, 10:05 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is offline
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Carrier for the big ship, fighter for the smaller ones.
  #3  
Old 10-22-2009, 10:15 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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If they're generation ships you could just have the characters refer to them simply as "worlds" since for all practical purposes they are the only world most of their inhabitants will ever know.
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Old 10-22-2009, 10:37 PM
stpauler stpauler is offline
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Adjective
Interstellar
Star
Planet(ary)
Space
Light

+

Noun
Coaches
Conveyance
Transporter
Craft
Car
Vehicle
Bus
Plane
  #5  
Old 10-22-2009, 10:57 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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In the aerospace/astrospace world we simply call anything that carries instruments or people into Earth orbit or beyond as "spacecraft". I suppose you could use the term "vessel", but this isn't qualitatively different from "ship". Frankly, "ship" is just a good a term as any for a spacecraft that carries people; it does pretty much the same things that a watercraft does (propulsion/weigh, protection from elements, et cetera) except in a celestial environment.

If we want to speak in terms of interstellar spacecraft (which by any extrapolation of known technology are just about as far from reality as Smith's "speedsters" and "destroyers") then the reality is that they probably won't be "roomy spacecraft," but rather will be distributed, robust, self-repairing, semi-autonomous probes somewhat akin to Dyson Freeman's Astrochicken. The reasons for this are obvious to anyone who is involved in or appreciative of the technical limitations of human space transportation; not only the impingement of high energy cosmic radiation, the enormous energies required to get a craft of any significant size up to speeds capable of crossing interstellar distances in anything like a reasonable timeframe (even given "generation ships"), the hazard of collision with even the small amount of matter at velocities approaching a fraction of a percent of the speed of light, and the problem of logistics and recycling, but also the energy required to operate a small-scale ecosystem and the thermodynamic limitations of eliminating waste heat from a closed system via radiation.

No doubt some nation will, sooner or later, establish a permanent and mostly self-sustaining human presence in orbital or even interplanetary space. The amount of resources available in even the Near Earth Objects make this an appealing enterprise for the long-sighted investor. Orbital habitats are not dramatically far from projections of current technology, and interplanetary vessels are a reasonable extrapolation of existing and conceptual propulsion systems. But interstellar transit is another bag of tricks entirely, and without some kind of beyond-science-fiction breakthrough, explorers to other star systems won't be running around in brightly colored spandex uniforms setting phasers to stun; they'll be self-replicating, possibly organic (or at least, organic-like) proxies for humanity, possibly containing some of our genetic heritage but not resembling our form.

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Old 10-22-2009, 11:06 PM
Stealth Potato Stealth Potato is offline
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If the smaller ones aren't for combat (which seems unlikely for a "hard" SF story, given that there's probably not much use for the sort of thing we think of when we say "fighter" in realistic space warfare), you could call them "shuttles." That pretty simply sums up their likely purpose: to move people or cargo between two points, namely between a carrier and a planet, or between two carriers.

I'm also writing an SF story -- not really Hard SF but leaning in that direction -- and that's the word I use. I don't eschew the word "ship," though, which I allow the characters to use to refer to the larger, interstellar craft. It's a difficult word not to use.
  #7  
Old 10-22-2009, 11:19 PM
El_Kabong El_Kabong is offline
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Not that you should necessarily copy Iain M. Banks, but he refers to the spacecraft in his stories as "units" if they're smallish and "vehicles" if they are biggish.
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Old 10-23-2009, 12:46 AM
Isamu Isamu is offline
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Transports / Habitats
  #9  
Old 10-23-2009, 12:59 AM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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If "spacecraft" won't work, could you use the model/brand name for the spacecraft? Like "we docked with the big Lockheed" or "they were close enough to see the silhouette of the Argo IIIb—military vessels, and this one being no exception, typically went unnamed—against the lunar disc."
  #10  
Old 10-23-2009, 02:30 AM
jackdavinci jackdavinci is offline
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Shuttle or shuttlecraft is pretty much the standard term for non fighters.
  #11  
Old 10-23-2009, 03:45 AM
Apollyon Apollyon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train View Post
I suppose you could use the term "vessel"...
Nuclear Wessels? Seem to recall from The Right Stuff the craft being referred to as Pods (to the disgust of the astronauts) and Capsules... Shuttlepod, Lifepod, Cargopod...
  #12  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:22 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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"Spacemobiles".
  #13  
Old 10-23-2009, 06:32 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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Consider the following words:

Train
Car
Truck
Airplane
Helicopter
Dirigible
Glider

All new terms describing modern forms of trasportation. If you trace the etrymology of these terms, perhaps you can use the process you discover to invent - or repurpose - a word for "spacecraft".
  #14  
Old 10-23-2009, 06:38 AM
Isamu Isamu is offline
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If you trace the etrymology....
Sir! it's no use! The etrymology craft is using bio-random hyperspace jumps. There's no way we'll be able to track her now!











But I like your idea.
  #15  
Old 10-23-2009, 06:43 AM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is offline
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Submarines, no matter how large, are always referred to as a "boat". That has a certain sense of claustrophobia about it. It's not much better than "ship", though, and also conjures up images of Firefly.

It could be a "liner" (which would carry "launches"). That suggests a scheduled service, like the old ocean liners, which doesn't sound like what you have in mind.

You could come up with a proper name for it, like Discovery, and just have the characters use that. That sidesteps the whole problem.
  #16  
Old 10-23-2009, 07:19 AM
Meurglys Meurglys is online now
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If there's a main drive unit pulling, or pushing, other habitat units, etc., it could be a 'tug'.

Or if your craft has a particular type of drive, call it after that, or after a slang term for the drive. A 'boombox' could be the accepted parlance for referring to a ship powered by repeated nuclear explosions, for instance.

Jack Vance called his small spaceships 'explorators' iirc, because their main function was exploring. Decide it's main function and mangle it a bit!
  #17  
Old 10-23-2009, 07:35 AM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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mmm, I guess BaseStar is already taken...

what about biological analogies? Host/Inquiline or Bearer/Children or even Exovehicle/Endovehicle or somesuch?
  #18  
Old 10-23-2009, 07:52 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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Submarines, no matter how large, are always referred to as a "boat". That has a certain sense of claustrophobia about it. It's not much better than "ship", though, and also conjures up images of Firefly.
"Submarine" is another good word. Think about it: they didn't call them "underwater ships", did they? They gave them a name based on where they travelled. Using the same logic, a possible term for a FTL starship would be an "Interstellar" or "Superstellar".
  #19  
Old 10-23-2009, 02:31 PM
tracer tracer is offline
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Or if your craft has a particular type of drive, call it after that, or after a slang term for the drive. A 'boombox' could be the accepted parlance for referring to a ship powered by repeated nuclear explosions, for instance.
You mean like how a spacecraft powered by a Bussard-like engine might be called a "ramscoop"?

(Or, for that matter, how a turbojet-powered airplane is sometimes simply called a "jet"?)

Tantalizing possibility....
  #20  
Old 10-23-2009, 02:32 PM
tracer tracer is offline
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"Submarine" is another good word. Think about it: they didn't call them "underwater ships", did they?
The Germans did.
  #21  
Old 10-23-2009, 03:01 PM
Wargamer Wargamer is offline
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I believe the German 'boote' = boat, while 'schiffe' is closer to ship.

I vote for calling the objects : "Transstellar/shuttle"
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  #22  
Old 10-23-2009, 03:32 PM
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"Submarine" is another good word. Think about it: they didn't call them "underwater ships", did they?
They did in German, I think. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uboat

---------------------------

The starcraft might be called by it's mode of propulsion or intended task:

Jumper, waverider, warper, lifter.

Smaller ships docked to it could be satellites or parasites.
  #23  
Old 10-23-2009, 03:40 PM
Jophiel Jophiel is offline
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Celestial ornithopters.
  #24  
Old 10-23-2009, 03:41 PM
Intergalactic Gladiator Intergalactic Gladiator is offline
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I am a fan of the term spaceplane. The smaller craft could be called that.
  #25  
Old 10-23-2009, 03:45 PM
TWDuke TWDuke is offline
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I know it's not IMHO but...

The nice thing about calling things what everyone else calls them is that the terminology is transparent to the reader. Imagine reading a book about dogs, but the author didn't like the word "dog" because of its negative connotations, so he was consistently casting about for synonyms like canine, domesticated wolf, pooch, hirsute quadruped, anti-cat, he who barks, etc. It would distract the reader from plot and characterizations and probably be damned annoying after a few pages.

Of course it's perfectly valid to want to make language a focus of the reader's attention, but if that's not your intention, I'd caution against deliberately using unfamiliar words when perfectly serviceable ones exist.
  #26  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:03 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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Originally Posted by TWDuke View Post
I know it's not IMHO but...

The nice thing about calling things what everyone else calls them is that the terminology is transparent to the reader. Imagine reading a book about dogs, but the author didn't like the word "dog" because of its negative connotations, so he was consistently casting about for synonyms like canine, domesticated wolf, pooch, hirsute quadruped, anti-cat, he who barks, etc. It would distract the reader from plot and characterizations and probably be damned annoying after a few pages.

Of course it's perfectly valid to want to make language a focus of the reader's attention, but if that's not your intention, I'd caution against deliberately using unfamiliar words when perfectly serviceable ones exist.
On the other hand, using novel vocabulary (as long as it is not done in excess of obscuration) can enhanced the reader's sense of being enmeshed in the world of the writer's creation Look at the use of "Lapine"' neologisms in Watership Down, novel terms for conventional technology in A Canticle for Liebowitz, and various terms in Dune. Used skillfully, this contributes to a sense that the story is not just an extension of a conventional genre by adding science-y sounding technobabble.

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Old 10-23-2009, 05:13 PM
Harmonious Discord Harmonious Discord is offline
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One author constantly used penis and penises for spaceships. I hate that.
  #28  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:14 PM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Why not coin a totally new word? Either acronym based (a bit old hat, but still popular among space agencies), or just totally made up based on a new technology?

Either that or use a foreign word - maybe a Chinese word could be adopted around the world if they make a major discovery... like Sputnik only even more universal? What do the Chinese call a spacecraft?
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Old 10-23-2009, 05:14 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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What terminology does NASA use?
  #30  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:19 PM
bup bup is offline
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Omboys and spivers.
  #31  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:28 PM
Harmonious Discord Harmonious Discord is offline
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Interstellar Cruiser
Space Junket
Space Junk
Ramjet
Goliath
Mega Cruiser
Space Nautilus
Ferry
Tanker Transport
  #32  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:30 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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What terminology does NASA use?
See post #5.

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  #33  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:37 PM
tracer tracer is offline
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The nice thing about calling things what everyone else calls them is that the terminology is transparent to the reader.
This is true, if the analogy is apt.

But in the case of space travel, particularly space travel in the not-too-soon future when interstellar distances are being crossed, there are going to be spacecraft for which no modern analogy exists.

What analogy is there in the modern world, for example, for an enormous vessel that carries only a few people, and which travels so close to the speed of light that little time passes for its crew despite decades passing for those back on the Earth? Or for a self-contained city that travels not by rockets or warp drives, but by teams of psychic women who guide it through Zorch Space until it materializes right smack-dab at its ultimate destination 30,000 light-years away?

Words like "ship" and "plane" give a completely wrong impression in both those cases.
  #34  
Old 10-23-2009, 05:56 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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I think it's perfectly reasonable to avoid "ship", as long as your spacefaring artifacts really aren't much like ships.

If it turns out that in your story the artifact really does act just like a ship, with neutronium matchlocks and cutlass-wielding scalawags, then there's not much point in avoiding the word.

So if you've got a large enclosed space, where lots of people live, with a method of propulsion, and so on, then "ship" conveys that sort of idea. On the other hand, if your transportation technology ends up being a lot different than how a "ship" works, then a different name is appropriate.

So, compare an "airplane" with an "airship". Even though an airship and a watership operate on different principles, there's a lot of similarity in how they operate. So if you call an aircraft an "airship" readers are going to expect certain things--cabins, hull, long duration voyages, naval-type crew, and so on. Call it an "airplane" and suddenly we have something different--seats rather than cabins, short duration voyages, pilot and flight attendants and so on.

Likewise, a real-world rocket that obeys the laws of physics is going to be a lot different than a "ship". If you're traveling from Earth to Mars in a Hohmann transfer orbit it's not going to seem much like a sea voyage.

So the best idea is to work through how these things function and what sort of technology they use. Then go through and weed out unconscious assumptions based on 100 years of science fictional space ships that are sea ships in disguise. Then figure out a name from there that carries the connotations you want, based on structure, function, or technology. Pod, habitat, capsule, warper, explorer, ionic, reactionless, or whatever. Maybe "ship" will turn out to be a pretty good term after all.
  #35  
Old 10-23-2009, 06:56 PM
Umbriel2 Umbriel2 is offline
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What terminology does NASA use?
We went to the moon in "modules" -- the "Command Module" (known more colloquially as a "Space Capsule") carrying the crew, the "Service Module" providing the propulsion and life support, and the "Lunar Module" (AKA "Lunar Excursion Module" or "LEM") for traveling to and from the lunar surface. I believe the Command and Service modules while combined were logically called the Command Service Module, or "CSM".

That's about as clinical, technical, and non-nautical as you can get. "Module" is also used to refer to individual components of the International Space Station.
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Old 10-23-2009, 07:32 PM
tracer tracer is offline
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The Apollo Command Module, Service Module, and LEM were collectively referred to as an "Apollo spacecraft." <shrug>
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Old 10-23-2009, 08:11 PM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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The Apollo Command Module, Service Module, and LEM were collectively referred to as an "Apollo spacecraft." <shrug>
I think I've seen "complex" used a few times for different types of rockets/spacecraft combined together for a role. Such as the Energia-Buran Complex, which included the Buran orbiter mated with the Energia launch vehicle (itself composed of a core section and multiple strapon boosters).
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Old 10-23-2009, 09:44 PM
tracer tracer is offline
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the Energia launch vehicle (itself composed of a core section and multiple strapon boosters).
Huh huh, you said "strapon".

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
  #39  
Old 10-23-2009, 11:20 PM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Huh huh, you said "strapon".

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
Hah. You think that can embarrass me? I once had to ask here if the Energia core gimbaled, while noting that I already knew that the strapons did.

  #40  
Old 10-24-2009, 12:06 AM
Green Bean Green Bean is offline
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"Submarine" is another good word. Think about it: they didn't call them "underwater ships", did they? They gave them a name based on where they travelled. Using the same logic, a possible term for a FTL starship would be an "Interstellar" or "Superstellar".
I like "interstellar" a lot. It sounds like a name that would actually be used for a type of space(not)ship.
  #41  
Old 10-24-2009, 03:08 AM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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I think I've seen "complex" used a few times for different types of rockets/spacecraft combined together for a role. Such as the Energia-Buran Complex, which included the Buran orbiter mated with the Energia launch vehicle (itself composed of a core section and multiple strapon boosters).
As far as I can tell this is Russian-peculiar jargon; in American and European space programs, a "complex" refers to the unified final assembly/integration, launch pads and gantries, and launch control facilities to support a launch vehicle. For instance, Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) consisting of two pads/gantries (39A and 39B) is used to support the US Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle) launches, and in previously supported Saturn IB and Saturn V launches.

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Old 10-24-2009, 09:05 AM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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An obvious choice would be to use ship-related words that aren't "Ship" itself. Any very large craft can be described by terms like "Cruiser," "Ferry," "Liner" or "Conveyor," and of course warships can take on terms like "Frigate," "Destroyer," etc.
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Old 10-24-2009, 09:10 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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Maru from Japanese, meaning something like "unit."

Or perhaps you could live with "Hull," which is even less nautical when the Hull is unnamed.
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Old 10-24-2009, 11:24 AM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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Adama always called Galactica's fighters planes, and I loved that detail.
  #45  
Old 10-24-2009, 02:52 PM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Now if we can just avoid using "ship" to describe the awkward romantic/sexual hooking-up of two ill-suited (to each other) characters, I'd be 100% happy.
  #46  
Old 10-24-2009, 03:26 PM
Raguleader Raguleader is offline
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An obvious choice would be to use ship-related words that aren't "Ship" itself. Any very large craft can be described by terms like "Cruiser," "Ferry," "Liner" or "Conveyor," and of course warships can take on terms like "Frigate," "Destroyer," etc.
So, fun trivia, of the four types of ships you named, three derive their names from what they do (they Cruise, they Ferry, or they Destroy), one derived its name from its association (Liners are all associated with a "Line", or a people transportation company, be it an airline, an oceanline, or a bus line), and the last one, Frigate, traces its etymology back to an Old English word that meant "Boat"

If you are going to have only one or a very few of these ships, I'd say just give them names that relate to their relation to each other, ie: big ship is Demeter and smaller ship is Persephone (bonus points if you wanted to give a poetic sounding name to some sort smaller transport ship that perhaps carried personnel from the safety of the mothership into harms way)

If the larger ship carries several of the smaller ships, you could call it a carrier. For the smaller ship, you can just call them shuttles, or reach around for other words to describe the same thing, such as Cutter or Pinnace (the Honor Harrington series of books uses Pinnace, Cutter, and Shuttle to describe a variety of smaller vessels dispatched by a larger ship to visit other ships or planets, the far more modern sounding "Light Attack Craft" or LAC is used to describe smaller skirmishing craft often deployed from larger ships).

Really, "Ship" is such a general term, it's hard to avoid without looking for more specific names. The only reason Airplanes wandered away from "Ship" for their names is because of their defining characteristic, the large airplanes (wings, airfoils, stabilizers, tails, chines, etc.) from which they generate their lift, as opposed to what we normally call an airship (Dirigible, Zeppelin, etc) which get their lift from the same source ships do: Buoyancy and volume displacement. This is similar to how planes propelled by turbine jet engines are called "Jets".

Last edited by Raguleader; 10-24-2009 at 03:29 PM.
  #47  
Old 10-24-2009, 05:30 PM
bup bup is offline
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Now if we can just avoid using "ship" to describe the awkward romantic/sexual hooking-up of two ill-suited (to each other) characters, I'd be 100% happy.
Relationcraft.
Relation module.
Relation tin can.

Hm. Let me get back to you.
  #48  
Old 10-24-2009, 05:48 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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You could give it some stupid sounding name like "trans-stellar moveatron" or "interplanetary travelodyne" if you want to move away from the commonly used "naval ships in space" convention.
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Old 10-24-2009, 05:51 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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I just thought of another one:

Astrosphere (like a bathysphere, but astro). Gives more of an impression of a habitate than a ship in space.
  #50  
Old 10-24-2009, 09:15 PM
Raguleader Raguleader is offline
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Originally Posted by bup View Post
Relation module.
So would people who engage in such persuits be called Mods?

d&r
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