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https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/treasure_planet_sailing..jpgSail onward, 'till you can't see the cosmological horizon. "When ships to sail the void between the stars have been invented there will also be men who come forward to sail those ships." — Johannes Kepler Maybe it's the romance, maybe it's the adventure, maybe it's the obvious parallels to the Age of Exploration, but for some reason, when people write about space, they tend to make parallels to the sea, as President Kennedy (himself a former naval officer) did in his "Space is the new ocean" speech. Often, it goes far beyond metaphor. Science Fiction writers frequently use nautical analogies for pretty much everything in space, and fill in the gaps in their own knowledge about spaceflight with details specific to sea travel.
Spacecraft are often called "spaceships", and sometimes just "ships". In many series, a small spacecraft can even be called a "spaceboat" or "boat", and space-based missiles are in some stories also called "torpedoes". Furthermore, the classes of ships in the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet are usually analogous to classes of waterborne ships, especially those used during World War II: Cruiser, Battleship, Destroyer, Frigate, etc. Good luck finding a Space Schooner or Space Canoe — though they have shown up. Spacecraft even have "lifeboats"—generally called escape pods or something similar—despite the concept being largely impractical in case of realistic space travel. Though works on the softer side of Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness can justify it with advanced technnologies. Some works of fiction blur the line between spaceships and oceangoing vessels even further. Space is two-dimensional. Viewscreens are almost always two-dimensional, when displays for battles at least should be three. Space has friction. Habitable planets are scattered across the Universe just like islands in a huge unexplored archipelago. Spaceships generally need to stock up supplies and energy on board between travels (some with sufficiently advanced technology just need solar energy to reload batteries though). Space militaries almost always use naval ranks, as opposed to army ranks or the RAF system, and soldiers stationed in space are usually called "marines", e.g. the "space marines" of Aliens, Doom, Marathon, StarCraft, etc. Starship Troopers did not call its soldiers marines though it could be argued that it established the archetype for later space marine forces. Even in real life, space explorers are called "astronauts" and "cosmonauts" (see Real Life). Spaceships have a bridge with a big window in the front that looks out on space and is usually at the front or top of the ship. The decks of the spaceship will be parallel to the direction of flight. Spaceships have a very noticeable "top" and "bottom". Cockpits, conning-towers, communication dishes, weapons etc. will mostly be on the "top". The underside will be smoother, often punctuated only by a "bomb-bay" style docking hatch. The top is always oriented with regard to a universal definition of "up" that all space-faring polities seemingly accept. This could be justified for vehicles designed for atmospheric flight and landing, but makes no sense for orbit-to-deep-space-only ships. Space is chock full of whales. A spacecraft can be caught in an "ion storm" or the like, which will toss it hither and thither and ultimately run it aground on a strange exotic uncharted planet. note Space Clouds can hide your ship like an ocean fog. In space, hovering things have to move up and down slightly. Piloting spacecraft between asteroids is often compared to navigating boats and ships across the waters between rocky islands and islets within an archipelago on Earth. In Space Opera, Science Fantasy and Steam Punk Fantasy genres, writers are fond of filling Space with aether streams and solar winds, even magical ships with Solar Sails that literally "sail" through the Void.note In those cases, you may find you can even breathe in Space, and if you're lucky you can even ignore the vacuum. Characterization and plot may also come straight out of the archetypes created during the era of Wooden Ships and Iron Men as well—including intrepid explorers, lost colonies, an exotic beauty in every port, Space Pirates, and sightings of the majestic Space Whale.
To some extent, Space Is An Ocean is a Justified Trope: not only was space thought to be some kind of fluid until the turn of the 20th centurynote , but seafarers long ago evolved the organizational techniques necessary to safely operate a self-sufficient vessel in a potentially hostile environment for an extended period of time, and it makes more sense to adopt nautical administrative and logistic features (and the terms for them) instead of inventing everything from scratch.
As science fiction (and the aviation industry) has matured, Space Is Air has become a complement to Space Is An Ocean. Typically, large ships like The Battlestar will be based on naval craft, while smaller craft like the Space Fighter will be treated like aircraft. The two are not mutually exclusive — far from it, applying the tropes to different vehicles allows writers to recreate World War II (particularly the Pacific theater, with its pioneering of large-scale naval aviation) Recycled IN SPACE, which is pretty cool, as it allows using the tactics of the Old School Dogfight and having to close to broadside range with capital ship guns. Land transport metaphors tend to fall flat. Elements of road vehicles are generally Played for Laughs; if a spacecraft has a manual transmission, it's a sure sign that Rule of Funny is a prime consideration. There's also a small but generally serious set of aversions (some listed below) that imagine space as a railroad instead—ranging from literal portrayals of trains in space to plots that take their inspiration from real-life railroad history.
Lots of speculative fiction in all media depict spaceships designed to land on water, since an ocean provides what amounts to an infinite runway with a similarly infinite capacity for absorbing the heat of re-entry. Some examples include the Bebop from Cowboy Bebop, the Seeker from David Brin's Startide Rising, most of the Space shuttles in Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium series, and the actual Apollo spacecraft sent to the moon (as well as the Mercury and Gemini spaceships that preceded Apollo) as well as the Huygens probe sent to Titan, Saturn's largest moonnote .
One could argue, with some success, Space Is an Ocean applies if instead one imagines space ships less as "sailing ships" and more as "submarines." Submarines and space craft share similarities:
Both move in three dimensional space. Prolonged exposure to space (or water...you get it) outside the vessel can be deadly (if the sub is currently at depth). Visual displays of the outside environment are less than useless (both space and the briny deep are inky black). Although the Space Whale hasn't been proven, they'd make more sense logically if thought of as ocean whales encountering a sub in the deep. The torpedo analogy works better as well. Unfortunately, there are a still a few significant points of differentiation as well, such as Stealth in Space. Finally, while not technically Truth in Television, this trope may well become so out of sheer cultural inertia; if it didn't become so as soon as NASA started naming space shuttles right out of maritime tradition. There's even a test shuttle named Enterprise (though that is a case of Defictionalization). There is also the fact that the orbits of most of the planets of The Solar System have an inclination of plus-or-minus 3° from a particular plane (the "ecliptic plane"),note and that the majority of the star systems within The Milky Way Galaxy spiral arms are within 1° of the plane of the galactic disc,note though said invariable ecliptic plane is not coplanar with the galactic disk.
Related tropes: 2-D Space The Sky Is an Ocean Space Is Air Space Sailing Sand Is Water Water Is Air Examples:
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