02 November 2017

Scifi Tropes

I didn't take this one. In fact this is the first ever "space selfie" taken by Buzz Aldrin on an EVA during the Gemini 12 mission.

I love scifi, but one thing that always bothers me about scfi in space is that helmets have internal lighting. I can understand why they must do this on TV - glass is reflective and if the interior of the helmet is dark, then you won't be able to see the face of the actor. But it does mean that the actor cannot see out very well, if at all.

In this shot Buzz has managed to get the sun angling in from the right of shot so you can see his face, albeit with some strong shadows.

In my scfi stories, no suits have glass any more. Glass is vulnerable to cracking (common trope) and an astronaut can easily be blinded by unshaded sunlight (also common trope). And glass doesn't stop all forms of harmful radiation - of which there is a great deal in space. Note also in Aldrin's 1960s suit, that his field of view is clear upwards, but he cannot look down at all - he cannot even see his hands unless they are raised to shoulder height!

In my stories, suits have VR goggles and hi-res, multi-spectral cameras (with digital zoom and other processing features). At this point it's probably cheaper to do this than make a sphere of toughened glass. Cameras and screens have better resolution that our eyes can detect now. This also allows the possibility of overlays with infrared or ultra-violet light which would be very useful! And the helmet now provides much better radiation protection.

A super version of this, plumbs the video feed directly into the optic nerve - very limited versions of this are available now for artificial retinas.

But of course you cannot see the face of the person in the suit. So, bad for TV, unless the people are sinister.

Another weird thing, which I think might happen IRL is that the whole suit has atmosphere. So a common scifi trope is that a hole in the leg means all your air leaks out and you die. In my suits only the helmet has air, and there are no external hoses to spring leaks or be yanked out. And the whole thing is self-sealing (using currently available tech).

Which also reminds me, most scifi stories go on and on about "oxygen levels". Oxygen is non-trivial, but the most important thing, as we saw in Apollo 13, is carbon-dioxide levels. CO2 build-up kills quicker than lack of O2 in almost all of the scenarios when people are "running out of air".

One day I'll write some of these stories down!

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