01 October 2015

FWS Topics: The Military Space Station

Wars are often waged far from home, making logistics an important element in warfighting. This supply-train will be extended from miles to lightyears with the advent of war in other solar systems. Back on Terra, military organizations, especially navies, have constructed bases around the global to allow for shorter, more effective logistics and power projection. In space, the need will be the same, and one answer provide by fiction and reality is the space station. In this blogpost, FWS will examining the military space station in sci-fi, in the reality and in history.

What a Space Station Means to Space Travel and the Starflung Military
Right now, there are two space stations orbiting our blue marble, the ISS and the Chinese Tiangong 1. These stations are places of testing the effects of micro-gravity on the human body and other Terrestrial lifeforms, being labs in space, and platform for testing equipment in the rigors of space. While the ISS is a place of the global community cooperating on forwarding science, it is a safe port for humans in space. One of the original ideas for the space station by Wernher Von Braun was to be a launching pad for a manned mission to Luna and Mars. Having an space station would allow easier access to the solar system, and less taxing launching for deep space missions. If and when we go to Mars, it has been proposed that a space station be constructed there, to extend the safe ports of humanity, allowing for deeper reach. One after another, a string of space stations will connect Earth to the outer reaches of the Sol System and beyond. Space Stations can also be a common meeting place, a waystation, like Babylon 5, for more empty sectors of space. Another element of the importance of space stations is that they are a way of bring our atmospheric conditions to the cosmos. Consider that we have yet to find an Terran atmospheric standard world out there, and space stations could be the only way to bring humanity to the stars until we locate and conquer an Earth-like world. What about the importance of space stations for the future spacefaring military? Like naval ports and international military bases, the military space station will be to extend the range of their military units, easier mobilization, colonial defense, and projecting power/ownership of outer space real estate. We could see space stations be divided, with one portion being civilian and other being military.

The Battle Station vs. the Military Space Station
Terminology can be so much fun, especially in the genre of science fiction! One term that parallels the military space station is the "battle station" or "mobile assault platform". While classically, the space station is an stationary object in the black (hence the name), the battle station is an mobile military space station that is designed to be easily transported from hotspot to hotspot and is armed for combat and defensive operations.
This build-in mobile ability and armament sets the battle station from the space station.These battle-stations are considered by some to be the largest military spacecraft in fictional space navies, and while armed against attack (just not X-Wings piloted by newbie Jedi farm boys), the battle station do need support for their naval brethren, because the primary role of the massive constructions is planetary domination and power projection across an star system, not spacecraft engagements. While these combat space stations are mobile and even FTL capable, the amount of power needed is enormous. All of these factors add up to be a health sum of money, and some might view the cheaper, less mobile space station as a cheaper alternative...unless they are planning on blowing up planets. The advantage of the battle station is that it can be moved to the site of operation, and offer a great range of services to the taskforce and its personnel, like R&R, drydock, and larger medical facilities. Examples of these battle station are the Fleet Battle Station from Starship Troopers or the Zentraedi Fulbtzs Berrentzs Battle Station. Another good example, that is non-military, is the Endurance from Interstellar.  

The Role of  the Military Space Station

  • Warehouse: Any military operation is going to require logistical support, especially in the far reaches of interstellar space. Much like the Federation Starbases, the military space station allows for our future military organization to have a safe port to gather supplies away from the frontlines. Commercial vessels would use the military space station has an hub to delivery their cargo, instead of attempting to met the warship in unprotected space. This warehouse-in-space would also be an range extender for the supply chain to deep space military units. 
  • Oasis: Serving onboard a ship, either now, in future, or even the past, crews need a change of scenery from the drab grey bulkheads and endless blackness. Military space stations would a place where they could relax, get a drink, met new people, take advantage of rec centers, and the merchants, and each other. Just think of how nice it was when you were playing Mass Effect to come back to the Citadel, or that speech from Romilly in Interstellar when he talked about missing green. 
  • RV Point:  Military space stations could also be seen as an common assembly point for an massive military operations, as was the case with Starbase 375 during Operation: RETURN from ST:DS9 or the Fleet battle stations from SST. These space stations would be the central hub for the assembled units and serve these vessels and soldiers in a secure location. 
  • Strike Base: To borrow a phrase from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, space is big, really big, and the realistic distances between targets could be massive. Much like the RV point role, the military space station could also be an strike base for rapid response units, like the space forts from Enemy Mine. If you place your space fortress near an area of threat, you can rush forces there much quicker than coming dozens or hundreds of lightyears to get there. This reason is more concrete when we consider the horror of light speed travel and time dilation, if there is no soft sci-fi hyper drive to save us from that consideration. Much the space stations in The Forever War, these strike bases would be within "local time" of the enemy.  
  • Symbol of Power and Ownership: The military space station is a great way for saying "that I own this and this is mine because I put this space station here". When planted around a planet or within a star system, the military space station symbolizes your government's authority and power over this area of space. This also forms an anchor for your claim and a target for your enemies.  
  • Drydock/Repair station: Along with getting a beer, a tattoo, some more MREs, and some strange; the military space station will be a place to repair your battered warship. As seen in Star Trek, orbital space installations could offer drydock repair facilities for everything from a simple 3,000 lightyear tune-up or replacing whole sections of your starship after some superman from the 20th century tried to take revenge for the death of his beloved wife.
  • Headquarters: There are a number of works that project that future military organizations will make their primary HQ on a military space station, or even a regional HQ given that space is big...really big. An military sparefaring organization could construct military space stations, like Starbases, to be the regional or sector command base for operations.  
  • Hospital: Much like major urban medical centers with more extensive services and ability than the smaller regional hospitals, the same will be true in space. Smaller military outposts or even warships will not offer the medical facilities that a military space station will, and this makes the military space station a busy central hub during times of conflict with patients being shipped back to the space station trauma centers. This was well done in the 1997 Starship Troopers film and in Enemy Mine.       
The Military Space Station as an Invasion Platform
Some sci-fi creators have envisioned the military space station as an mobile platform for planetary invasions or even extensive operations in an certain star system. We have seen this with the Tet from Oblivion and the Fleet Battle station Ticonderoga from SST. Unlike a space naval taskforce, which mostly likely would have the space combat equivalent of an amphibious landing assault ship, the space station would serve as a the keystone for the invasion, offering greater services and abilities to the ground forces dirtside.
Consider that these invasion space station platforms could have first-rate medical services, on-demand manufacturing, R&R services, docking stations, and greater space for supplies and equipment. Of course, the bitch of the thing would be transporting the space station to the objective and the expensive of construction and maintenance.  The other element to consider is an hostile space station in orbit over the planetary combat theater would be a juicy target for the defenders. A good clean KEW hit or even a smuggled nuke could destroy the station and taking thousands of lives with it...not to mention the overall invasion operation.

Real-World Military Space Stations

USSR ALMAZ (1973-1976)
During the Cold War, there was a real concern that space would be the ultimate battlefield. The Soviet Union was wanting to putting up battle stations, spaceplanes, and even developing laser pistol technology. The first step was the Soviet Union "Almaz" stations and they were the only official military space stations ever put up into orbit...and they were short lived. This was developed during the icy portion of the Cold War and the Space Race. These Almaz stations were answer to the American MOL program, and Almaz was designed to be long-term, with crews rotated in and out like a normal space station. However, this space station was devoted to surveillance and possible engagement of hostile spacecraft and satellites with an custom-designed 23mm cannon or even space-to-space rockets. Added to these defensive system, a specially developed two KEW space cannon was constructed but never deployed. During the the 1970's, several Alamz stations were sent into orbit, but technical issues and the advancement of spy satellite technology caused cancellation. Only three crews successful manned the Almaz stations, and by 1977, the Alamz program was closed down.

USAF MOL Space Station (1969 Cancelled)
In 1960, the first spy satellites was deployed CORONA and the poor quality of these spy photos caused an attempts by the Soviets and Americans to put "astro-spy platforms" into space. While the Soviets were somewhat successful with their military space stations, the US effort under the CIA and USAF was cancelled before the Apollo landings. In the 1960's, the CIA and USAF recruited their own astronaut corps and designed their own spacecraft that could conduct missions in space ranging from surveillance to capturing USSR spy stations.
That military surveillance space stations was called Manned Orbiting Laboratory or MOL and it was based on the Gemini spacecraft. If successful, the Gemini B spacecraft would have been conducting missions over 40 days with extended support systems. The MOL platforms would have also been used in conjunction with the Astronaut Propulsion Unit (like the MMU) that could have allowed military astronauts to inspect Soviet spy satellites. To protect the program, the US government called the program MOL and told the public of military astronauts conducting military tasks in micro-gravity. The real story was for the MOL to be an astro-spy platform, taking photos of the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact. Once the mission over, the Gemini capsule would detach from the lab module, reentry while the module would burn up in the atmosphere. MOL was known by the KGB and there was effort to keep tabs on the program, and they developed their own military surveillance platform, ALMAZ.    

USAF/NASA Freedom (1980's-1990's Cancelled)
In the 1960's, NASA began a plan to construct an reusable space plane that could truck items into space and construct an space station. By the time of the Nixon Administration, the Space Shuttle was the only thing given funding, and the space station was put on hold. In the 1980's, the Reagan Administration took a renewed interest in manned space flight, and in the 1984 State of the Union speech, Reagan asked for an US space station. By 1988, the dual-keel space station design was re-branded "Freedom", and sold to the American public. This would finally make reality the original role of the Space Shuttle. Freedom would have been a home to both NASA operations and the US Air Force. According to some proposals, the USAF would have several modules to work in and used the Shuttle for transportation. This would not be the first time a piece of NASA hardware would be used for the US military; Shuttle Atlantis was often used by the US military. When Freedom was cancelled due to cost overruns, the USAF lost their foothold. Much of the research was folded into the ISS.

USAF SDI Space Station (1980's Cancelled)
During President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or Star Wars), there was many mad ideas floating around popular media. I can remember reading about SDI and how the US Air Force and NASA would be working on putting up all manner of weapon satellites to defend us against the Reds. Against their better wishes, NASA was going to allow the USAF to use the shuttles to truck some elements of SDI into orbit. There was even discussion of USAF exclusive spacecrafts to serve the SDI platforms. Added to this was the idea of a military-only space station that allowed crews access to the platforms and to have an in-space lab for military experiments and repair. This idea was thrown around, and one name I can remember was "monitor", but it was all for nothing...the USAF space station was axed along with all of SDI in the 1990's.

From the Fox Mulder Corner: The Rumored US Military Secret Space Station
During the apex of the Space Race, there were rumors of a secret American space program. During the 1960's, the US Air Force, there was indeed an military space program that was intended to operate orbital surveillance stations, like the MOL of the late 1960's. While this program was cancelled, there are still rumors. One of these states that this Black Space Program has off-world installations, space fleets, and even their own space station. Pictures of bad quality have been taken, and shown as evidence. Some believe that the robotic space shuttle, the Boeing X-37 has been taken as proof of an complex military space program. Others believe that the secret space station is connected to what British hacker Gary McKinnon found on secure government databases about off-world soldiers and space fleets.

Civilians on Military Space Stations
The majority of military space stations we've seen in sci-fi are populated with civilians. Either as family, traders, independent contractors, private military, or even simple businessmen; we see civilians on those tin-cans. I was reminded of this while watching episodes of B5 and DS9, and I could not help but think of Clerks. Civilians, human or alien, always bring another element to the lives of military personnel. This has been seen on the massive military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, where contractors perform all manner of jobs and duties. Hell, I nearly was one of them in 2009, when I nearly accepted a job to go to Afghanistan. Of course, the risk is greater for these civilians. When these stations are attacked, the civilians are at risk, and the military has to protect them as their tin-can is being attacked. So, I guess Clerks was right...the personal politics of the civilian does come into effect on military space installations.

Science Fiction and the Military Space Station
Space stations have been appearing in science fiction since nearly the beginning of the genre in the late 19th century, and have remained a popular setting for (mis)adventures ever since. While space stations are popular and well represented in sci-fi, the military space station is less so, but two of the most popular science fiction televisions of the 1990's were both set on mixed use military-ran space stations: DS9 and B5. Military space stations are used by creators to allow military units to gather, soldiers to have shore leave, and to demonstrate the power and technology of the setting. Some of these military outposts are designed specifically for the sole use of the military, but most are mixed use like we've seen in Babylon 5 and Mass Effect.
These mixed use military space stations allow creators an active, more dynamic setting to put their characters into, and allows other elements to make contact with the characters. This seen time and time again in Deep Space 9, Babylon 5, and Mass Effect. Military space stations are also a target. In some works, the primary objective is to knock the military space station, which at times, is the primary headquarters of the space military organization, like the Lysian Central Command in the TNG episode "Conundrum" or the K'titrak Mang from Wing Commander II. At other times, military space stations can be the "dead-end" to some military personnel's careers, or the frontier outpost or even entry "port authority" stations run by in-system "coast guard" units. It is often that these frontier outposts are the first contact with hostile alien civilizations as seen in the HALO universe. 

Fleet Battlestation Ticonderoga from the Starship Troopers film
While nearly element of the 1997 SST mission has been picked apart and analyzed, the massive battle-stations, like the Ticonderoga, have not been, and they a damned interesting element within the SST film universe. The Fleet battle station is an FTL capable mobile space station specially designed to be a harbor, RV point, and support hub for Fleet and MI operations. Given the situation in the film it is likely that the Fleet battle stations were an outgrown of the Bug Wars, and constructed specially for service along the Arachnid Quarantine Zone. As evidenced in the film, the battle stations seem to allow for rapid incursions into Arachnid space and are a assembly point for Fleet and MI personnel. It is also a place for getting a drink, a tattoo, and getting in a fight. After the disastrous battle of Klendathu, the Ticonderoga became a mass-causality center. While being featured in one of the most powerful and moving scenes in the film, the Ticonderoga is barely talked about in the film itself and on SST websites.

Federation Starbases from the Star Trek Universe
The term "star base" has been around since the 1944 short story "Star Base X" by  R.M. Williams, but it was Star Trek that propelled the term into the collective knowledge of the public. In the ST universe, the Starbase is an off-world installation operated by Starfleet that are designed for a number of purposes and roles. By the 24th century, Starfleet had over 700 Starbases of various sizes, capabilities, and operational environments. There has been some confusion with the regards to the number of Starbases. Over 700 is a massive number, and a massive jump from the less than two dozen seen in TOS.  I am not 100% sure that these Federation off-world installation are numbered in sequence. The numbering system could be like interstellar zip codes or area codes. Then we have the Starbases that carry specific names, like Sierra, Montgomery, or Earhart. Why the difference? No one is quite sure. While it is certainly a mistake by the scriptwriters, but why did producers let it slide? Is there an reason? I like it could be that the Federation names a select few Starbases for individuals. 
Some Starbases are massive orbital installations designed to support Starships and interstellar travel and trade, like Starbase One in orbit around Terra (AKA Spacedock) and Starbase 74. Others are mere planetary surface bases with a few buildings and landing platforms, or are massive urban structures with state-of-the-art facilities, like Starbase 515. Much like size, these Starbases are vary in services and mission. Some are designed to beef Federation present on colonies or on member worlds. Others are to be an frontier outpost, delivery services to the wilderness. However, most Starbases are not designed solely for military purposes, but can be during times of crisis. Starbases are not the only space stations operated by Starfleet.
There is the little matter of the Deep Space Stations and what the hell they are. In ST lore, there are several Deep Space stations, and the Gods-of-Trek have not informed us why some Federation space stations are named "Deep Space X" instead of "Starbase XYZ." My theory is that the key difference in Deep Space Stations and the normal Starbases is location, role, and geography. Deep Space Stations are located well away from Federation territory, like Bajor, and are designed to be a frontier outpost with all manner of support facilities, along with being an establishing factor for commerce, and they seem to be space stations (unlike Starbases). It could be that the Deep Space designation is retired after the borders and boundaries of the Federation catch up to the DS station, and they become then a numbered Starbase.  

Terok Nor from ST:DS9
During the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, the Terok Nor space station in orbit around the planet was the center of the Cardassian occupation and a symbol of the rape of Bajor and her people. Terok Nor was a major ore processing station that took the mineral of Bajor and processed them of off-world transport by the Cardassian Union. The history of the station altered in 2369, when the occupation of Bajor was ended by the Cardassians, and the provisional government of Bajor asked the Federation for help in reconstruction. Terok Nor was an asset that the Bjor government wanted to hang onto, but needed Federation help in restoring and running. That lead to Terok Nor translation from mining station to Starfleet frontier outpost Deep Space 9. Much like the Babylon 5 Station, Deep Space Nine was at the center of many of the events in galaxy during the 2370's. Deep Space Nine itself was a battleground many times during the Klingon-Federation War and the Dominion Wars. There is little information about the station after the war, and some sources claim that the station was moved back into orbit over Bajor. While Babylon 5 was more successful at incorporating the space station into the overall story of the universe at first, DS9 would come into its own around the time the Dominion showed up. Terok Nor would go on to become one of the iconic space stations of science fiction.

The Babylon 5 Station from Babylon 5
One of the most iconic and well known sci-fi space stations was the Babylon Station from 1990's television series Babylon 5. Constructed in neutral territory after the bloody Minbari-Earth War, the five-mile only O'Neil cylinder space station was developed to be a place of an peaceful exchange, trade, and diplomacy, not war. Despite its mission of peace, the B5 station was run by EarthForce and protected by three squadron of Star Fury space fighters. Out of the quarter-of-a-million population, 2,000 were EarthForce personnel. Throughout the series, the Babylon station was at the center of most of the major events of history during the 2250's and 2260's, and the mission of the station switched from peace to victory during the Crisis in the Earth Alliance, the Shadow War, and the Narn-Centauri War. Unlike DS9, the Babylon station was so massive that the lower special effects budget could not allow for the true grandeur of the station to be seen. Some effects shots were done showing the cylinder-shaped world of B5, but mostly we saw coordinators, matte paintings, and the Zocalo. Babylon 5 is often said to be the way to center a fictional world and work around a space station. 

The UNSC Orbital Defense Platforms from HALO 2 and HALO: Reach
Towards the end of the Human-Covenant War, the UNSC constructed the orbital defense platforms that were completely developed around their massive Magnetic Accelerator Cannons (MAC). These MAC stations were intended to knock out alien capital ships with an one-punch killer blow. According to background material, the MAC cannon can fire an 3,000 pound KE tungsten round at 4% of light speed. This force can easily punch through the shielding of two to three Covenant warships. While little more than space artillery stations, the MAC platforms  did have crew habitats and the living spaces were seen in some in depth during the first part of HALO 2.  During the battle of Reach and the battle of Earth in 2552, MAC platforms were front-and-center during the battle in space. 

Gateway Station from ALIENS
When Ripley is recovered from her shuttlecraft, she brought to the massive Gateway Station in orbit around Terra. For the first act of the film, Gateway is the main stage for Ripley learning about her present, her past, and her dim future. Gateway Stations seems to be a massive modular installation that hosts American military elements, Mercy hospital, along with ICC, and the colonial admin. The script, Gateway Station was called "sprawling complex of modular habitats", and was originally called "Earth Station Beta" in the 1983 script by Cameron, and was to serve as a reminder to Ripley and the audience of how long Ripley had be floating out in the cold void of space. Gateway station was designed by Robert Skotak, and it was part model and part matte painting with recycled ships from Gerry Anderson's Terrahawks. Gateway Station was seen again in the Dark Horse's 1990 ALIENS comic series. The station served as an refugee center for people able to get off of Earth during the global xenomorph infestation. This is where Ripley, Newt, and Hicks are reunited, and they plan the mission to the xenomorph homeworld to aliennap the Queen Mother Alien. 

The Imperial Death Star Battle Station from Star Wars
There are no military space stations on this list that are as well known or powerful than the Star Wars Death Stars. In the first iconic film, we see a mobile battle station that can and does destroy entire planets with one zap from it mega-laser and is the very symbol of the Empire. This megastructure is the size of a moon, staffed with over one million Imperial military personnel, and requires more power than entire settled planets. The Death Star was intended to be the symbol of the power and strength of the Empire, bullying worlds into remaining loyal to the Sith-led Empire.
However, the Death Star is completely bat-shit insane. Consider the amount of money it took to construct, staff, and operate this military space stations...no wonder there was an Rebel Alliance. It wasn't the tyrannic rule of the Imperial, it was the bloody taxes to pay for the thing that got people pissed off! Then there is it size. With being 160 kilometers in size, means its surface area would be 14 million square miles...those elevators must be faster than an attack fighter, and the power source would have to be an sun...making the Death Star an Dyson Sphere! Of course, to blow up a planet, you would need an sun to power the death-beam.
Beside the extreme cost and greedy power demands, there is the military purpose to the Death Star. Originally, the Death Star battle station was developed to be the symbol of the Sith and their rule over the galaxy through fear of being zapped like Alderaan. Again, this makes no sense. Blowing up planets is an extreme decision, and the effect would be crushing on the star system and the economics of the galaxy. So, if the blowing up your planet is the last resort...why else would have this thing? The massive super star destroyer class is basically an mobile battle station with massive amount of capability and firepower with the cost of the Death Star? 

Lysian Central Command from the ST:TNG Episode "Conundrum"
One of the most "alien" looking military space stations comes to us from the rather good TNG episode "Conundrum". When the crew of the D gets their memories suppressed, an hostile Satarran shapeshifter poses a Starfleet officer, and steers the D into his people's mortal enemy: the Lysians. Both the Satarrans and the Lysians were similar in technological level, and the war was dragging on...so, the Satarrans cook up this plan to have the Enterprise crew believe that they were at war with the Lysians, and that the Enterprise mission was to destroy the headquarters of the Lysian Alliance: an massive military space station.  However, the Federation were vastly superior, and a single photon torpedo could finish off their space-based orbital command center, killing 15,000 Lysian military personnel. Lucky, the crew stops McDuff, and the central command remains undamaged. While some arresting visuals, the Lysian central command is a interesting example of an alien military space station.

The "Fort" Space Stations for the Hornorverse
Military space stations are key element and set piece for the Honor Harrington novels. These stations, or "forts", where placed in key strategic points, like an important planet, star systems, or even wormhole burn-out sites. This was seen with the heavy space fort presence around the Manticore wormhole junction. While forts were fitted with defensive and offensive systems, they were beefed up with laser platforms that added to the defensive profile of the station. Often forts are on the frontlines of any space battle, given their placement near wormhole sites. Taking the space fort is often one of the primary goals of any attack force. This is one of those series that enjoys using military space stations in all situations.

The BTA Military Space Fortress from Enemy Mine
In the year 2092, the human is united under the BTA in the conquest of space, but the best interstellar real estate is already claimed by an alien race, the Drac. This starts a war that is waged in deep space, far away from Terra and Dracon. The BTA constructs ringed military space fortresses that are the forward operating base of this war. Both human and Drac deploy space fighters, and our film opens with the Drac launching an strike on the unnamed  BTA space fortress. We know very little about the setting of the film before the laser bolt start flying.
This example of an military space station is interesting, because the BTA uses these ringed stations like an spacecraft carrier, along with being a typical space station...however, I also have another theory about these space fortresses. During a rewatch of Enemy Mine for this blogpost, I think we maybe seeing the end of the war, rather than the beginning. I think these ringed space stations were positioned on the border between the system the BTA had wrestled away from the Drac, and we meant to keep our liberated worlds.  The Drac fighter strike at the beginning of the 1985 film is attempt to dislodge the BTA hold on some contested solar system. Another theory is that these BTA space forts were mobile, and the four cones along the axis were, in fact, rocket boosters. I am not sure and there is so little to go on here, but they are an intriguing space station.

The Citadel from the Mass Effect Universe
One of the most celebrated, iconic, and lovingly designed space stations in all of science fiction is the Citadel from the Mass Effect universe. It is a marvel to behold, and a designation that I always look forward to seeing and experiencing. While the Citadel is not a strictly military space station, it is the center of the galaxy political structure and there is a heavy military presence from every member and non-member state of the Citadel Council. Some of the key battles of the Mass Effect series have been wage around the Citadel station or even over it. During the Reaper Invasion, the Citadel was bastion of shelter from the storm.

The Forerunner Installations from the HALO Universe
There are few space stations in science fiction that are as monstrous as the Halo mega-structure rings or as powerful. Designed to be both the destroyer and savior, the Halo Rings were the last, best hope for victory against the flood 100,000 years ago. In the first HALO game, we all learned the horrifying truth...that the Halo Rings were to destroy all higher ordered life to starve out the Flood. Each installation had an effective range of 25,000 light years, causing there to be 12 shattered around the galaxy. When the parasite was dead, the Halo rings were to seeded life on several worlds where it was beginning to prosper. These races became us and the alien races of the Covenant. Much more than a weapon, the Halo rings were a research lab to study the Flood, and holding center for the seeds of new life.  

Phoenix Station of the CDF from the Old Man's War Universe
The Colonial Defense Force and the Colonial Union are both based around the primary human colony of Phoenix. The heart of the CDF is the in-orbit military installation, Phoenix Station. Several of the Old Man's War pivotal scenes in the series take place onboard the massive station, and the station continues to be a center point of the Old Man's War universe.  In the original book, it is described as a massive station with hundreds of ships surrounding it, and some of the characters talk about the station being the center of the human universe. Here is were newly minted CDF soldiers are brought to, and where the fate of the Colonial Union is decided as well. The station is well known for having a great burger place as well as state-of-the-art research facilities.

The Zentraedi Fulbtzs Berrentzs Battle Station from the ROBOTECH Universe

The very heart of Zentraedi is an military space battle station that is an mass of organic technology wrapped in an mountain shape. This 900 miles battle station is foldable and is the headquarters of the Zentraedi people, along with the home of Supreme Command Dolza. Armed to the teeth with thousands of missile launchers and DE cannons, it is also home to hundred of thousands of troops and mechs. More than just an mobile headquarters, the Fulbtzs Berrentzs is also the primary cloning facility and does have the ability to create warship via cellular mitosis construction. During the final battle with the Earth forces and the rebel Zentraedi, Dolza ordered all of the Zentraedi 4+ million warships to Terran space to whip the planet clean of life. At the center of the storm of alien warships was the command base of the Zentraedi people. During the final battle of the 1st Robotech War, the SDF-1 gained access via the Daedalus protocol, and unleashed reflex warhead missiles inside the command base primary spacedock. The command base ripped itself apart, and the resulting explosion created collateral damage to the surrounding warships. Without the command HQ, the rest of the loyal Zentraedi were in chaos, allowing the battle to be won...but at a horrible price.

Battle School Station from Ender's Game
Battle School, the space-based military academy, that trains the next-generation of military commanders. To encourage the next generation, Battle School features an massive micro-gravity arena that allows the teams (armies) of Battle School to engage in force-on-force training. These games are one of the key social outlets of the academy and some of the best scenes in the book/movie. In the 2013 film adaptation, Battle School was moved from the asteroid belt to Earth orbit, but the harshness of the Battle School society and training is the same. Since the release of Ender's Game, Battle School has become of the most well known examples of an military space station.

The Space Fortresses from Legends of the Galactic Heroes
In the Japanese military sci-fi book series that was adapted into anime, the Legends of the Galactic Heroes has their own type of military space stations: the space fortress. Some of the space fortresses are tradition space station designs, like Garmisch, while others are more unique and giants in mass. Some of the Imperial space forts are massive, like 40 trillion tons for Geiersburg Fortress which can hold up to 16,000 warships! To protect these larger space fortresses, they are equipped with massive out-power lasers and surrounded in liquid metal shielding. Much like many of the military space stations, these space fortress are targeted during operations, and considered to be prizes for the enemy force. The liquid metal shielding is unique and gets these space station an original look.

The Ragnar Anchorage Ammunition Reserve Station from Battlestar Galactica
During the Cylon Wars, the Colonial Fleet constructed a number of space-based warehouses for critical military supplies. Ragnar Anchorage ammunition reserve was one, and it played an important part for the exodus of the Galactica and the civilian fleet. This ringed stations was constructed in the upper atmosphere of the gas giant Ragnar on the edge of the Cyrannus quad-star mega-system;s gamma/delta stars. With the Galactica being retrofitted into a museum, the weapon stores were emptied, and to protect the fleet, the Ragnar station became the logical site for the last stop before jumping past the red line. Given that Galactica was an older, original battlestar, the out-dated ammunition stored at Ragnar was prefect for the BSG-075.   

The Robotech Masters' Factory Satellite from the ROBOTECH Universe
The Robotech factory satellite is in some ways is the football of the ROBOTECH universe. This massive mostly automated military space factory installation was originally organically constructed around an asteroid by the Robotech Masters around the year 1760 AD. In 1807 AD,  the factory satellite was given to their warrior slaves, the Zentraedi. For a great deal of time, the factory satellite assembled a variety of mecha, fighters, and warships for the Zentraedi and their wars. After the destruction of the majority of the Zentraedi armada during the final battle over Earth, the factory satellite became one of the few remaining Zentraedi military bases still under Zentraedi control and operation.
That changed in 2013 AD, when a small force of allied Zentraedi and Terran fighters attacked and secured the factory satellite, folding it back to Terran space. In orbit of Terra, the factory satellite became the primary military construction site and the shipyard that gave birth to the SDF-2 and SDF-3. The majority of the REF Pioneer mission mecha, ships, and fighters were assembled at the orbital factory. After the chaos of the Robotech Masters' invasion and the Invid, the fate of the factory satellite is unknown. Some believe that it was folded away to an secure location, others believe that pirates took the station during the chaos. Others say that the factory satellite was folded to the location of the REF and it became the construction yards for the REF fleet that retook Earth during the 3rd Robotech War.

The ODIN and LOKI Military Space Stations from COD: GHOSTS
In the so-so 2013 COD: GHOSTS, we see an two military space stations being at the center of the events of the game. In 2017, prior to the game's events, the USAF constructed an orbital weapons platform called ODIN which was modeled after the real-life THOR kinetic bombardment station. Unlike the THOR, ODIN and LOKI were constructed around a military space station, allowing crews a place to work and maintenance the platforms. ODIN was hijacked by the South American Federation just as the station was coming on-line, the Federation was successful in launching the kinetic "rods-from-god" down on the United States. In one day, the US went from Superpower to 3rd World nation. In 2027, the Federation constructed their own ODIN, called LOKI, which was another kinetic bombardment station. Not learning their lesson, the US deployed space soldiers to take LOKI and use it to destroy the Chile Federation base and the Federation navy. While sort of stupid, it was cool to finally play a space combat level in COD, even if it reminded me of Moonraker.

Next Time on FWS...
It is time...finally. On October 12, 2010, an landmark military shooter video game was released: the reboot of EA's Medal of Honor franchise. That was five years ago, and in the next installment of FWS, I will be looking back one of my favorite video games of all time, and one of the best military shooters of all time as well. Look for this retrospective on October 12!

16 September 2015

FWS Topics:Field Rations and Space Food

Napoleon once said: "that army marches on its stomach", and how true he was. While we live in the 21st century with all manner of modern technology, soldiers and astronauts still need to eat. Military rations are the subject of jokes and insults, but the modern military field ration packs is lightyears better than the shit that my Grandfather ate in World War II and Korea. Today, the can has been replaced by the vacuum sealed pouch of various packs that all contain thousands of calories, and while these 21st ration packs are better than cans of old, but they still receive their share of mockery. In this blog article, we will exploring and explaining military field rations, space food, and some examples of "future food".

What are Field Rations?
There is a separation between military rations and field rations. Unlike chow prepared in the mess hall, which is military rations, the field rations are designed for in-field nutrition. Field rations are prepackaged meals designed specifically for the needs of the soldiers during deployments in the field and the conditions the soldiers may find themselves. Given the chaos of in-field conditions, field rations are constructed to be minimum preparation and to maximum the nutrition. This means they are calorically dense, weather-tight, and needing little or no outside gear with the in-packaging heating chemicals to make the meal that much more special.      

What is Space Food?
Due to micro-gravity environment of space, eating and drinking normally is not possible, and specialized food and drink were needed. Since the dawn of manned space flight, astronauts have been consuming an ever-improving diet of modified foods for space. There is also the considerations of packaging, weight, and prepartion. Some foods and drink are ready-to-serve, while others have to be hydrated in their packages. Other considerations have to be made with the action of the bodily functions and foods, such as carbonated drinks. Unlike military field rations, space food is more setup to be enjoyed as normal as possible.

The Importance of Food to the Military/Astronauts
Everything on this planet needs to eat, but few species relish in this daily ritual in the way that humans do. The cooking of food over the fire in early human communities may have led to the development of language and society. While food is an important social activity, in the military and in space, it can be key to morale and unit cohesion. Chow time can be the time when the soldiers take a break from their duties and the stress while sharing a meal with their fellow warfighters. It can also be a reminder of home, a time to talk and share, or just a time to refuel and reframe their mental space. The same is true of astronauts. Chow time is a time to take a break from the stress of working in outer space, but with the added bonus of eating in zero-gee.

The Brief History of Field Rations
Packing food away from your home while on an expedition has been part of the human story since we left to hunt and find new lands. On the body of European iceman Otzi found in the Austrian Alps had food packed on his person for his long journey, namely dried meat and hard bread, and the same was true of foot soldiers throughout time. Dried meat and hard dried were commonplace, with local sources being added. While most armies had traveling cooks, soldiers had to have their own sources of food. It was common prior 1832, to have several ounces of rum or other spirits. However, this was replaced with coffee and sugar; both still appear in rations even today. In 1907, we would see the first real issuing of fielding rations as we know it today: the Iron Ration. This was an meat-favored cake with some chocolate bars and salt/pepper. This came in at one pound, and was sealed in tin. During the First World War, military rations would be expanded and sealed against the harsh conditions of the modern battlefield. While several were tried, the Reserve Ration was more akin to the familiar rations of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. These were canned meats, like Pork-n-Beans, with hard biscuits, coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes.
By the 2nd World War, several types of rations were used with alphabet names. For example, C-Rations were canned meals and common, with K-Rations being used for assault units, and being contained a large box with several elements that packed over 2,000 calories. Most interesting was the D-Ration. In some World War II films, we see large, thick chocolate bars. These were not a king-sized candy bar, but an older version of the nutrient bars of today. D-Rats were an vitamin reinforced four-ounce chocolate brick-bar that was meant for starvation prevention were not sweet like normal chocolate, but a taste similar to bland oats and flour. It was meant for emergencies. The 3rd Reich used familiar staples of  German cooking for their own rations. Most German units pooled their rations to make a stew added with foraged ingredients. This world would see the development of many ration types for all manner of battlefield conditions and situations.
Post-war continued to see canned rations being the favored medium of battlefield nutrient. The familiar C-Rations of World War II, became the C-Rats of Korea and World War II. While cans were heavy, they were durable enough to survive the rigors of the harsh battlefields of Korea and Vietnam. Soldiers jokes that during Korea, they ate World War II leftovers, and during Vietnam, they ate Korean leftovers. While C-Rations were still used, A and B were also used, which are field kitchen rations, and canned or package meals via field kitchens. These canned wet meals were official known as MCI or "meals, combat, individual". During Vietnam, the precursor to the MRE was seen in the form of the LRP freeze-dried ration developed for Special Forces units.
This idea of a package meal with various elements would be experimented with since 1963, and finally lead to the development of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) in 1981. The MREs would see their first combat deployment in the Invasion of Grenada. Unlike many of the canned rations, the US Military and other armed forces around the world, have been improving and expanding the menu. Today, the standard MRE has 24 main entrees with over 150 other items. In addition, specialized beverage bags were added to allow soldiers to mix dried drink packs with their backpack hydration systems. The idea of the MRE would not be lost on other military organizations, and soon, MRE-like battlefield nutrient systems were developed and fielded; finally ending the reign of the almighty can.    

The History of Space Food
Outer space presents certain challenges to food preparation, assembly, and service. The first meal in space was consumed by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Three 5.64oz  toothpaste-like foil tubes were onboard the Vostok I, two were meat paste, and one was chocolate. Yummy. While food tubes were a symbol of manned space flight, they were abandoned due to weight after the 1960's, and dehydrated foods were more favored by the USA and USSR. With better hot water rehydration system and the "spoon-bowl" system allowed for greater choices for food. Spicy foods were a favorite to counter the head congestion suffered by space travellers. By the time of the Space Shuttle and Mir, the USSR and NASA had developed a better system for delivering meals in space, and often foods were seals in pouches that were easily rehydrated and warmed. Today, onboard the ISS, many meals options exist, along with fresh foods and even Espresso! Much like military rations, space foods have an entire system of cataloging that includes eight different categories.

Modern Military Field Rations
All modern military field rations utilize the American MRE template, but not the endless variety. Here is a list of the various modern US Military ration types. It is surprising to see the diversity of the military field rations available. If there is a environment, than it seems that the US Armed Forces has an field ration type to fit those conditions!

The First Strike Ration (FSR)
This is the "Meals-on-the-Go" for military assault units during more intense, dynamic combat conditions. Unlike most MREs that require some preparation, the FSR is designed to be eaten on the go and designed to roll with the situation. With all of these factors in mind, the FSR is less weight (50% less), greater calories, less associate items, and single FSR pack is enough calories for one day. FSR has 2900 calories, compared to 1250 calories in one MRE pack.  

The Classic MRE
The classic brown-bag lunch of the US military since 1981, the MRE. The MRE has become the fore bearer of the modern military field rations, the hope of Doomsday Preppers, and a symbol of our modern technology. MREs are a calorie dense, hearty packages, and designed for all of the rigors of battlefield conditions. In one pouch, a soldier can have a day's worth of calories with all manner of snacks, beverages, and entrees to appeal to any soldier or prepper. At the moment, the US military fields 24 entrees, with some being meatless, with over 150 combinations of extras that keep it interesting. Trading MRE pieces is a time honored tradition as it was in the grade school cafeteria. While options are one appeal of the MRE, one of the greatest appeals to the civilian and military market of the MRE is shelf-life. According to tests, if the MRE package is kept in normal temperatures, than shelf-life can be numbered in years. MREInfo.com tested entrees dating from 10 to 11 years ago. These MREs had been stores in household conditions for their lives. The author found them to okay and he didn't die. The site did say that the applesauce and the cheese spread were two items to avoid in decade-old MREs.

Long Range Patrol Meal (LRP)
The concept of the Long Range Patrol Meal has been experimented with since the Vietnam War, and is similar in style to the Cold Weather MRE with less preparation, more calories, and less weight. These were developed from the jungle fighting rations of the US in the Pacific theater. To save the weight, the old wet canned (dog food) rations in the metal containers (dog food cans) were replaced by pouches and needed water to rehydrate. This posed issues when water was an issue and the need to boil the water. The LRP meal ration pack was redesigned with the meals being able to be rehydrated in the pouch themselves. I was unable to locate much information on if the LRP ration on the popularity of the this type of military ration.

The HooAH! Bar
Given the popularity of civilian energy bars, like Cliffbar and PowerBar, the US military began to explore developing their own energy bar. In 1996, this dairy-based reinforced bar that was created and was original going to be part of the standard MRE ration pack, however that changed. Popularity fueled the military to offer the energy bar as a standalone product, and these became a hot item on the civilian market, despite similar civilian energy bars. The HooAH! Bar and other similar military energy bars have a long shelf life (3+years) and are available in a wide range of favorites. I've read that military energy bars are kept within easy reach of the soldiers while on the move. Soldiers have been known to keep these on their personal gear, even if they are humping a pack.

Religious Kosher/Halal
Give the religious diet restrictions present in most of the world's major religions, and some soldiers who follow those religious dietary teachings fueled specialized Halal/Kosher meals. Prior to these specialized rations, soldiers were forced to make due and trade for what they needed. In 2004, these special MREs have been issued to soldiers requesting them, and they more rare than the typical ration packs. Some of the entrees are similar to the humanitarian rations.

The Tailored Operation Training Manual (TOTM)
Think of this odd military ration classification has the "dieter's special" of field rations. The TOTM is designed around lessening the caloric amount of typical MREs; from 1250 to 997 calories. The TOTM was specifically centered around soldiers that were needing field rations, but not the massive amount of calories. Generally, these "lower-calorie" ration packs are issued to soldiers during field instruction, classroom instruction, and less intense training environments. Unlike the standard MRE, the TOTM looks less military, and has less meal options. These are often the first rations that newer troops experience during their basic training. These are less common on the civilian market.

Unitized Group Ration (UGR)
Unlike MREs or other indivdual ration packs, the UGR are designed to feed larger numbers of soldiers via prepacked foods. Classified as "B Rations", the UGR are are designed to be used in field chow halls, far away from the ability to provide fresh foods, but still maintaining the ability to feed soldiers hot meals in a unit setting. Often, field kitchens use hot water to heat the pouches, but even beyond the field kitchen, B rations like the UGR can be used in the field by a simple pull, heating the rations in under a minute. These are the massive feeding system for the US military that are based around MRE elements, including the new long shelf-life sandwichs.

Various Food Packets for Survival
One of the odd military rations was the survival rations that are placed in emergency escape vehicles or even emergency shelters. These are designed to be stored for years, and provide nutrient in small packages. These calorie-dense rations (2400kcals+) are packaged with water, flares, and basic need items. Some of the rations take the form of nutrient bars with over 2400 calories. These rations are seen in use onboard naval vessels, Coast Guard, and even cruise ships. Some campers and hiker use these instead of packing freeze-dried food pouches.

Aircrew Build-to-Order Meal Module (ABOMM)
Most military rations are developed with ground operations in mind, but the DOD/USAF/US Army Aviation has developed a specialized military ration pack called the ABOMM for in-flight nutritional needs. These specialized rations were developed with aircrews needing to eat while on the job, and the typical MREs were too difficult to manage. There is no prep needed, and little mess. In 2013, the test of these lower-calorie rations were conducted, and they were approved, but these are much more rare military field rations than the typical MRE.  

Cold Weather MRE (MCW)
Given the challenges of cold combat conditions, there is a specialized Cold Weather MRE, the Meal Cold Weather (MCW). These meals are designed to be in colder conditions with less water in the food itself, more drink mixture packs, packed in white plastic, and an increase in overall calories to make up for the increased caloric demand of the body in cold conditions.

Humanitarian Daily Ration (HDR)
One of the missions of the most modern military organizations is to serve during humanitarian crises. The US military developed a specialized variant of the military MRE for just such an event: the HDR or Humanitarian Daily Ration. Packing over 2,000 calories, the HDR is designed to be accepted for all dietetic needs and restrictions. These yellow and pinkish package ration packs were developed with the stresses of humanitarian missions and local conditions, along with the ability to be airdropped. Five menus with 3 choices of meatless entrees give the HDR a range of favors and appeal.  

The Challenge of Food on Long-Term Manned Space Flight
Food, water, waste, mass, and fuel are all limiting factors for long-term manned space flight, and  The issue is storing enough foodstuffs onboard our spacecraft for extended trips into the black. While modern space rations are very good, we have to consider the space and mass needed to store years worth of rations for an entire crew. Any spaceship will have micro-gravity gardens, but proteins, carbs, and fats will be an issue, and there have been some creative answers. Some believe that we should be eating insects for long-term manned space flight as part the answer....yeah...makes that trip to Mars look not so good, huh? Others believe that cloned meat will be the answer, or algae, or even 3D printer technology will solve the question of food and deep space exploration. The fact is that humans need about 2200-3000 calories, over four pounds of water, 70 grams of protein, a pound of carbs and fats. Any spacecraft will be an closed ecosystem, and waste is the enemy, and complete recycling the goal. In space travel, waste not, want not is the golden rule. This makes CELSS or Controlled Environment Life Support System the technological goal.
Livestock will be difficult to take with us to the stars for in-flight meal service. While animals could be created once the ship has reached it destination, normal meat sources will be impossible during flight, and while ship stores will be one answer, another is insects...yes, eating bugs. Already, the world eats insects, and food-grade insects and even insect-based flour could be used for the protein during long-term spaceflight. Algae and insect powder could be used to construct protein-rich breads will a minimum of waste and resources. Even more "interesting" would be the practice of raising our food-grade insects in micro-gravity farms onboard the ship with less space taken up by the bug farms than fish. I've watched a few videos of people cooking with insects, and the faces they made did not inspire me to embrace eating bugs instead of yummy cows.
Algae has been a likely candidate for a spaceflight superfood that could serve for the protein, and it is already proven and embraced. Some believe, like George Sessoon and Rodney Dale, that the Manna that the wandering Israelites consumed from the Bible and the Koran is some sort of algae-based food from Like insects, algae can be grown onboard ship within vats, and be processed into a number of food items and would help with oxygen production. The side effect of too much algae ingestion is gout, which is not fun.
Another option is applying 3D printing technology to micro-manufacturing food out of raw resources. Of course, insects and algae would be part of the raw ingredients for our 3D food printer. NASA recently invested $125,000 in a grant to see if 3D printer food technology was a worthy avenue for solving long-term space travel nutritional needs.

Food Pills?
This is one of those future food myths that I can remember from watching The Jetsons back in the day. During one episode, Elroy is sent to his room, and Jane begs George to allow her to give their son some "peanut butter & jelly capsules".Food pills were also thought to be a way for women to be liberated from the slaving in the kitchen duties...back in 1893. But can you use food pills instead of eating. The answer is no. While pill can prove vitamins, fiber, and other elements of nutrient, the calories, fats, proteins are unable to be formed into a pill. Researchers that have tried to eat concentrated foodstuffs, like monkey food, were beset with cravings for hot real food. Then there is the depression and other mental health reactions that also accompanied the monkey food diet.

Food From an 3D Printer?
NASA has given $125,000 in funding for a real-world "universal food synthesizer" that will use the basic building blocks of foodstuffs and combine them to the desired dish. Even the US Army has been eyeballing the technology for in-field kitchens that could use less staff to prepare meals. The idea is that these machines will use cartridges of various types of base foodstuffs, including algae, insect powder, and seaweed to construct meals. Most are geometric food cubes, but the concept is solid and so is the food. It is not very exciting. We could see 3D printer food to more akin to early sci-fi visions of geometric foods where color determines if it is a sweet, a protein, vegetable, or even fruit. The advantage of 3D printer foods is that various types of dishes could be made from space-saving cartridges, overall nutritional standards could be easily standardized, and it could cut down on staff, energy costs, and transport costs. In the future, we could see the chow halls or mess tents of previous wars be eliminated in favor of a room filled with 3D food printers that assembly a limited number dishes in minutes. I am still guessing that the familiar table sauces will be present...those cubes look dry. However, the food would lack a certain flare or variation. It could be an issue of eating the same thing, with no variation day after day. We could see some beverages being composed out of 3D foodstuffs. At the moment of order, the brew on-demand system would dump a few concentrated cubes of coffee, or tea, or juice into a glass, and create the desired beverage with water.

Drinking Cola in Space
Carbonated drinks are some of the most popular on Earth, but they present challenges in micro-gravity. Gas that normally escapes during consummation on Earth, does not in space, and causes more burps and more gas released during that process. These burps are not just gas, but also liquid, or "wet burps", and this can and does lead to vomit. Floating spheres of liquid in micro-gravity can be dangerous to equipment. There is also the issue of carbonated drinks becoming foamy messes, due to lack of separation. The same is also true of beer. Pepsi and Coca-Cola have tried to import cola into the final frontier, but with limited success. Coco-Coke had a specialized dispenser can that looks like a shaving cream can flown in July of 1985 on STS-51-F. Oddly, the cola was the infamous New Coke! Later in 1996, a dispenser machine was used for Coca-Cola classic, Diet Coke, and Powerade. Pepsi was also flown also during STS-51-F, in another type of dispenser nozzle-can. Given that was during the bloody Cola Wars, NASA did not want to pick sides, and given the challenges, NASA decided to leave cola drinks off of the menu, along with Jack-and-Coke.

International Military Rations
You can tell a great deal about a society by what they pack in their military rations, and how they pack it. While it is true that the American military MRE field ration has been a revolution, and most nations have followed in a similar pattern, international military rations, there is still something special and unique in the foods other nation pack up for their soldier's sack lunch. Some elements are universal, like sweets, coffee, sugar, and tea. The entrees are a rainbow of choices with all kinds of exotic options. I've read that American soldiers will trade pieces of their own MREs for some elements of the international rations. The American MREs tend to be more diverse than other military organization field rations.

The Implications of the ST Food Replicator
In depictions of food in sci-fi, nothing has compared to the impact of the ST:TNG Replicator. We would countless times, our brave space trekkers touch a few buttons, bark an order at the machine, and within a few seconds, the desired dish would magically assembly before their eyes. This is intoxicating technology. Despite the magic of the Trek Replicators, there will be still the need for logistics. One reader of FWS, Daniel, commented this recently: "I don't really see how replicators or some other cornucopia machine do away with the supply train at all. Your assembler still needs the raw feedstock for it after all. Which needs to be mined, refined, packaged, shipped, received, and distributed to the front. If you want to claim it makes things out of raw energy it makes the problem worse, because now you still have the supply chain, but now it is for reactor fuel, and it needs enough that it can generate ~10^17 joules for every kilogram of raw feedstock they otherwise would have been shipping in. Magic recyclers where you shovel in dirt and it is able to make things out of that doesn't really help either, because readily accessible materials that can be reconstituted into feedstock and materiel probably won't have the more interesting elements and isotopes you need in sufficient quantities. There is really no way around having to deal with logistics"

The Fake Food Cubes of Sci-Fi
Given that eating is a common human experience that will always be present in our lives for eternity, sci-fi has attempted to show how "sci-fi the future is" via food. One common trope in science fiction seemed to be very fake looking cubed or geometrically shaped foodstuffs in bright bold colors, This has been seen in Star Trek, the 1979 Battlestar Galactica, and the 1980's Buck Rogers, and the food's "alieness" only played into the sci-fi angle. This shit always reminded me of Legos, and some of it was made from plastic or even foam. On the original Trek, it was colored pieces of fruit. Wisely, this trend has died out in sci-fi, and been replaced with more realistic depictions of food.

Science Fiction and Space Food
The Space Race was big business for companies that could cash in on the crazy, and the trend of "this is what the astronauts eat in space!" give birth to a number of products. We all remember Tang...This trend died down in the 1970's, but relaunched in the 1980's with items like Space Ice Cream. With space food being a consumer product, it was not lost on creators during the Space Race. Space food was big in the sci-fi of the more pulp era, and some even showed the the realities of eating in space, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Yesterday's Children by David Gerrold.
There was also the trend of future people would be consuming food in the form of a pill, which was popularized by The Jetsons. With artificial gravity, comes the ability to have "normal" foodstuff products. While movies do feature space food, it is TV series and books that often show more of the daily routine of soldiers and astronauts. In the 1960's, Star Trek, would began to feature the most iconic futuristic food machines in sci-fi that led to the TNG replicator. These altered thinking of food in the distant future, and caused creators to start thinking inventive ways to fuse high-technology and food. Currently, sci-fi has projecting the end of meat as we know it, with heavy uses of soy and even tofu to replicate the experience and taste of animal meat, as seen in The Forever War. Sci-fi works are so projecting the use of banks of automated dispensers as seen in films like Prometheus, ALIENS, and AVATAR. These food dispensers are reminiscent of the old style Automats of the 1950's. It is likely that 3D food printers will be appear more in future science fiction works...including mine.

Science Fiction and Field Rations
While projecting food into the future is a common vehicle for creators to demonstrate how different their future is from today, field rations are less common in science fiction. Often, rations take the form of emergency rations and are symbol of how bad the shit has gotten in our story. This is often used in Star Trek universe as a counter to the food replicators, the yin and yang of high technology. However, true military field rations are rarely seen sci-fi, along with the typical setting of when those ration packs are consumed. For example, you rarely see or read soldiers just digging into chow while out in the field, as is common in military films and books. If we do see field or emergency rations in a sci-fi work, it is often crackers or biscuits or simply relabeled dehydrated camping food packages. Because, food is more science fiction if it comes out of a foiled pouch.  

Food in my own Science Fiction Writings
This may come as a surprise, but I love to cook, and I do love Coca-Coke (trying to quit drinking the stuff...but, I wish I knew how to quit you!), and of course, coffee. This means that food and drink appears in my novels in all shapes and sizes. Military ration packs are featured along with shipboard various foods and drinks. Often, what I am into at the moment of writing, appears in the novels. In a earlier short story, I was drinking Starbucks Cafe Americanos, and they popped up, and during the writing of Endangered Species, I was drinking energy drinks from time-to-time, which also made into the story. I also enjoy writing about food and the scenes that they create. Often, some of the best scenes for character interaction comes when it is chow time. I do often make statements about the conditions of the world, and how it is different from today with food as much as technology. For example, a majority of stories discuss the expense and rarity of "real" animal meats. This is likely an outcropping of my reading older sci-fi stories where meat is rare, and soy has replaced it.

Examples of Space Food/Ration Packs in Sci-Fi

Lembas from The Lord of the Rings Universe
We nearly never discuss fantasy here on FWS, but I am a big fan of the JRR Tolkien books (not the films) and I wanted to add this shining example of an fantasy field ration. This special food made by Elves was a field ration for the Fellowship, and this leaf-wrapped was specially designed for long treks. Okay, so, these magically cornbread can stay fresh for months, and a few bites were enough to fill a normal person...well, maybe not an Texan.

The Food Synthesizers from the Star Trek Universe
The Food synthesizers of the original series ere something of a in-between food prep technology. Food replicators were the apex, and food synthesizers are the middle. We see in TOS that old-style computer cards are used to order up a certain desired meal. So, what the hell is an "food synthesizer"? It is basically a high-speed delivery system of micro turbolifts that speed food from an central kitchen assembly area to various lounges onboard the ship via the iconic food slots. It appears to food being made up from thin air. Food onboard the original Enterprise was indeed made from real foodstuffs and simply delivered up to the desired location. According to Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise (Pocket Books, 1987), by the Movie-Era, the refit NCC-1701 was using an "food processor". This midway point between the food synthesizer and the replicator, used micro-transport systems to assembly food from basic nutrient building blocks. The desired dish was then assembled, taking anywhere between 20 to 90 seconds, at the food slot. This food technology was not really seen in the films.

The Drac Military "Egg" Rations from Enemy Mine
Besides makeup, weird languages, and funny looking features, alien species can be set apart in science fiction via their choices at mealtime. Such was true of the Klingons and the Prawns, but in 1985's Enemy Mine, we seen an rare example of alien military emergency rations. In the film, the Drac pilot, Jerry, crash lands on a hostile alien world. Inside of what remains of his space fighter, we see a open container of egg-shaped green emergency survival rations. These look like a row of Easter eggs in a egg holder for your refrigerator. When the human space pilot Davidge attempt to eat one of the egg shaped rations, he nearly vomits. I guess the BTA does not give their pilots emergency survival rations.

The Yeast Vats from Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
One of the best books ever written by the grand master of science fiction was Caves of Steel and it tells the story of an Earth besieged by the humans that went out into space and established colonies. As they pushed out, humans back on Earth founded massive underground cities that housed the 8 billion humans. To feed the unwashed masses of underground humans (Morloks?), the cities have turned to yeast farming to augment other sources of foodstuffs. But, there is no choice in what food you eat in the assigned community kitchens. You sit at your assigned seating, and get what the slot-gods deem. Asimov, being a god of course, used this element to full advantage and really made you believe that in the future that there would only be yeast...and yeast-lords. Let us see how many of you get that reference.

Soylent Green from Soylent Green
Of course, this is one of the most famous examples of food in sci-fi, but why is it one this list? First, I basically had to include it, and Soylent Green is an interesting example of a global ration...that is made from people. Soylent corporation uses corpses to be converted to the Soylent Green crackers, but lies to the public, saying that Soylent Green is made from ocean plankton farming. Most everyone on Earth eats Soylent Green because it is the global ration for the dying human race.

The Protein Resequencer from Star Trek: Enterprise
Given that the adventures of the NX-01 were set in the 2150's, the technology that we knew in the 23rd and 24th centuries did not exist. Instead, the cutting-edge NX-01 Enterprise was fitted with a real live cook, galley, and chow hall. Everyday, chief would whipped a daily menu complete with deserts, however, he didn't do it alone. Onboard the ship was the "protein resequencer", which extended the supply of the food stores and the limited hydroponic greenhouse, especially during the Xendi Campaign. The chief was never seen, but during the final episode of ST:ENT, Commander Riker played the chief on a holodeck reenactment of the final voyage of the old NX-01. It showed that the chief worked with real, live ingredients along with using kitchen tools and cooking skills. This is one of the few chiefs ever seen in the Star Trek universe. So what the hell is an protein resequencer? It took proteins and reordered them to form other proteins as raw material for various foods. However, they still needed a cook and more real foodstuffs.

The Common Area onboard the USCSS Nostromo
When we examine films like 1979's ALIEN, we can see a different presentation of future food. The good space trucker crew of the USCSS Nostromo are seen eating several large meals, and all seem to be from tall plastic clear contains that looks like it came from the Container Store catalog. Various foodstuffs from the cereal and grain family are seen, and it is my guess that the food in those large plastic containers are re-hydrated en masse to be served family style for common ship-wide meals. Of course, if we listen to Parker, the only good thing on the good ship Nostromo was the coffee.

The Food Replicator from the Star Trek Universe
One of the most advanced food preparation technology ever seen in sci-fi is the ST:TNG food replicator. It seems like magic that only a few commands can summon any of its 4500 meal on-file in any nutrition requirements in a few seconds to any of the 100 replicators onboard the Enterprise D. Flexibility is key to the replicator, and to give that flexibility to the crew for food and drink, the raw food stock is houses as molecules that re-arrange to met the demand. This takes a great deal of computer operation, but less energy than one might think. While not commonly used, the raw food stock can come from recycle wastes...just think about that for a minute.
Not all food replicators are the same. During the alternate universe Enterprise D battleship, all power is poured into offensive and defensive systems, causing replicators be at half-power. This causes the entire crew and marines to be on military replicator rations called TKLs.Then there are the ones in Ten-Forward and onboard the Captain's private Yacht. These specialized food machines are fitted with finer quantum geometry transformational matrix field emitters that allow for closer replication and assembly of more "difficult" foods. Also, some locations are allowed to generate full octane alcohol drinks. One popular theory online is that due to the replicators, most of the Federation could be vegan or mostly, since they rarely raise animals for meat. While replicators are common in serve with Starfleet and in homes, real food is still prepared and consumed...just look at Ben Sisko's dad's Cajun restaurant in New Orleans.

The Space Food from 2001: A Space Odyssey
In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a vision of the future in space, and it featured mostly hard-science space travel realities, including food. Throughout the film, characters would eat in zero-gee conditions, and the food (and other concepts) was developed by an NASA scientific adviser Fred Ordway. To the film's credit, most of the depictions of food in space are correct and that are many scenes with the space food, some are iconic to the film and sci-fi as a whole.

The Jedi Food Pills from the Star Wars Universe
In the prequel SW films we finally witness what real Jedi worn before the fall of the Order after the Clone Wars. One interesting item was the small finger length cylinders worn on the standard Jedi utility belt. These 12 small cylinders were the emergency food pellets used by the Jedi in the field. There is little or nothing known about these little items, but at least the production was thinking about what Jedi in the field would need. It is likely that the food pellets were a mega-shot of everything the body needs including caffeine, protein, vitamins, fiber, and a shit ton of calories. Each one was likely good enough for a full day of intake. It was not advisable to live off of the food pellets, they were designed for emergency survival.

The Food Cube from the Farscape Universe
In the show, we see a number of characters eating Food Cubes, and they have become an icon of sci-fi food. They are natural-colored cracker-like objects packed with the basic nutrient for most sentient alien species, and are not the most exciting food in all of outer space, but they do get the job done. So, what the Frell were the Food Cubes made from? According to some theories on the old interwebs and actress Claudia Black, the Food Cubes from Farscape were made from Haw Flakes, a type of Chinese sweets made from the Hawthorn fruit. Or that the Food Cubes were colored Tofu, and shaped. I would like to believe that they were the Haw Flakes.

Emergency Rations from Star Trek: Enterprise
All Federation starships carry emergency rations in special cases when the main power or the replicator network is down. The ST show that featured emergency rations more than one else was ST:ENT. These appear to be the classic sci-fi foil-packs that was likely relabeled camping food pouches. During the excellent episode Shuttlepod One, we see Tucker and Reed using the emergency rations onboard the tiny shuttlepod, and even using the leftover mashed potatoes as a means to plug up a hole in the hull.

Food Dispenser and Food Pills from the Jetsons
I grew up watching the Jetsons, and I was interested in how 1960's creators were thinking our far-future society of the 21st century was going to look. Oddly, the Jetsons had a great deal of food in the series, and were inventive about how that food was made and consumed. In the show, we see Jane, the wife, using old style punch cards on a massive food venting machine or just punching a few buttons and food magically arriving in the middle of the table. The show never had any consistency when it came to the food technology, and different types of food vending machines were featured. What the Jetsons does make clear, is that food preparation in the future would be done by machines and not human hands. I sometimes believe that the production staff of TNG were inspirited by the Jetsons when coming up with the food replicators.

That Fucking White Shit from The Matrix
While the people of Zion are eating real foodstuffs, the crews of the hover-ships are forced to eat these bowls of white shit described as "snot". This substance was packed with everything that the body needed for nutrient. Of course, it was better than what was going to be in the film. Giant cockroaches eaten like Lobster with melted butter. Seriously, giant cockroaches. Some have taken issue with the white shit in the Matrix, but it was a symbol of how bad things have gotten in the future and how humans have adapted to the new bleak reality. So glad they did not use the giant cockroaches.

The Algae foodstuff from Battlestar Galactica
Now, everyone who reads FWS should know that I frakking love BSG, but when the "entire food supply of the ragtag fleet is contaminated" storyline was revealed, I rolled my eyes. It was so underdone and sloppy, but it resulted in some damn good episodes. To feed the thousands of humans trapped onboard the ships, the Galactica located a planet that had massive algae blooms, and this sludge was pumped out and processed into protein bars, crackers, and mush. For the rest of the show, Algae was what was for dinner...and lunch...and breakfast for the fleet. While the use of algae was sounded and realistic, it could have been have been given a better genesis than a one-line explanation.

The Military Rations from Alien Legion
Throughout the run of Alien Legion under the Marvel spinoff brand Epic, we see a variety of future military rations. Due to this military sc-fi comic dealing with three alien galaxies that is populated by thousands of species, there is challenges of fielding rations to all of those various lifeforms with their many nutritional needs. The comics make mention several times of rations being categorized based on biology, and certain symbols were for certain species, if you were from planet X and species Y, than you eat rations marked with a blue triangle. While inventive, this could be a nightmare for logistical considerations, and species in the Legion could starve if something were to happen to the supply train. Legionaries and other alien warriors would carry individual ration packs that looked more akin to cookies and in issue #5 of the relaunched Alien Legion comic book, we see Grimod being forced to eat Harkilon rations.

The Military Food Rations from the Star Wars Universe
We've seen military emergency rations in the Star Wars universe but nothing like in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke travels to the Dagobah system. On that swampland world, we see Luke set up camp from supplies stored in his X-Wing, and he reveals a plastic box filled will manner of foodstuffs. These were standard ration packs for pilots in case of being shot down. Of course, they are not always preferred by some, like Yoda, who questioned their nutritional value. Even as a kid, I always thought that the ration packs that Luke uses was an odd assortment of foodstuffs. It turns out that the ration pack in the 1980 film was actually an fishing tackle box filled with all manner of snack foods. I can say, at else this is not fake plastic geometric pieces.

The Colonial Nutrient/Immunization Ration Bars from Firefly, the Episode "Serenity"
In the premiere episode of the landmark sci-fi series, the good crew of the Serenity savages an colonial transport, and locates some very valuable cargo: starter ration bars for colonial settlement. These imprinted government goods are designed to feed families and provide immunizations for pioneers founding colonial settlements. Much like dried beef and hard tack, these bars were designed to get the settlers through until crops were harvested. These bars were prized and expensive due to their nutrient abilities and immunization, but were heavy to transport. While imprinted, these brick-like foodstuffs are sold on the black market, and can be used in local colonial power politics. According to some sources, these ration bars were first designed by the original Terran settlers to the 'verse due to the amount of terraforming that had to be undertaken. Thanks to FWS reader Moran for the heads up on this one!  


The Surprising history of Hot Coco and the Military

The History of Military Field Rations

Cooking on Mars

Next Time on FWS...
At this moment, human beings are orbiting the Earth in the ISS with is devoted to global cooperation, exploration, and scientific discovery. However, it could have been so different. During the Cold War and the Space Race, the US and USSR developed military space stations, some were even put into orbit. In the next blogpost, FWS will be looking at military space stations in reality and in fiction.