Avoiding "ship" in spacecraft descriptions

I believe the German ‘boote’ = boat, while ‘schiffe’ is closer to ship.

I vote for calling the objects : “Transstellar/shuttle”

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.

Celestial ornithopters.

I am a fan of the term spaceplane. The smaller craft could be called that.

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.


One author constantly used penis and penises for spaceships. I hate that.

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?

What terminology does NASA use?

Omboys and spivers.

Interstellar Cruiser
Space Junket
Space Junk
Mega Cruiser
Space Nautilus
Tanker Transport

See post #5.


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.

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.

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.

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).

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.


I like “interstellar” a lot. It sounds like a name that would actually be used for a type of space(not)ship.