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Engineering Rates for Space Opera

This weekend I ran across the rare writing tweet I could answer.

While Mr. Nevair was happy with my answer, I thought others might get some help from an expanded version.

First, my bona fides. I spent nine years, two months, and three days in the United States Navy (not that I counted). Specifically, I was a nuclear-trained machinist mate qualified in submarines. My twitter answer drew on that directly.

Currently, the US Navy has ten ratings in the Engineering and Hull classification. My notes don’t cover everything listed under those ratings, but those I consider most relevant to adapting them for space opera fiction. In addition, I have included a former rating, Boiler Tech, that was merged into my rating, Machinist Mate, the year after I left the Navy.

  • Boiler Technician (BT) – Responsible for maintaining and firing boilers.
  • Damage Controlman (DC) – Responsible for keeping the ship stable and functioning during combat. They also maintain damage control equipment and prepare for chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) attacks (or is it NBC, nuclear, biological, and chemical now…it changes).
  • Electrician’s Mate (EM) – Maintains electrical systems.
  • Engineman (EN) – Responsible for diesel and gasoline engines.
  • Gas Turbine Systems Technician (GS) – Maintains gas turbine engines and related propulsion and generation equipment.
  • Hull Maintenance Technician (HT) – Maintain the hull and hull fittings. Maintain survival equipment.
  • Interior Communications Technician (IC) – Not only maintains announcement and intercom type systems but gyrocompass systems.
  • Machinist’s Mate (MM) – The general purpose mechanic of the Navy. AC, refrigeration, steam piping, air compressors, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and so on. You name it; we worked on it. On submarines, MMs attend special schools to fill HT, EN, DC, and MR roles. I took advantage of this to attend welding and machine tool operator schools.
  • Torpedoman’s Mate (TM) – Maintains weapons, loading, and storage in submarines.
  • Machinery Repairman (MR) – Make replacement parts refurbish large-scale equipment.
  • Navy Diver (DV) – Underwater ship and facility maintenance.

That’s a lot of ratings. I think most, if not all, can appear in a space opera setting. The EM, MM, and MR should be useful titles without any change. Electricity is probably not going away, although if you assume all transmission is fiber-optic, you might call them Optical Transference Technicians. All those cool sliding doors, turbo-lifts, gimbaling mounts for rockets, refrigeration units are machinery and mechanics and machinery repairmen will be needed.

The BT, EN, and GS could all transfer, with name changes, combine depending on your technology. In a Star Trek inspired universe, you could convert the Boiler Tech to an Antimatter Technician (AT), responsible for the warp core. The EN would become the Impulseman (IM), in charge of impulse engines and probably the maneuvering thrusters. The GS would become the Warp Drive Technician (WT), working in the warp nacelles of the big starships.

You might wonder what the difference between the HT and the DC is. So has the Navy because they were the same rating for a while. I would convert the DC into the Life Supportman (LS), responsible for maintaining life support systems and equipment and fighting damage that was very dangerous to the crew, such as fires, depressurization, and various contaminants. The Hull Technician would stay the same title, much as the MM and MR, and be responsible for the hull and structural integrity of the ship. They swap some responsibilities with the survival gear going from the HT to the LS while the HT gets ship stability responsibilities.

Initially, I was unsure what to do with the IC until I caught that note about the gyrocompass. The Subspace Technical (or whatever you call any FTL sensors and communications you have) was what I came up with. The ST could be an exciting rating.

As for the Navy Diver, I would replace him with the SW, the Space Walker. They would be responsible for any work done on the hull or other equipment from the outside. They might be more a space dock rating with EVA training supplied to HTs, EMs, and STs with special training much as divers on submarines (who hold other ratings). On the other hand, your space navies could do the opposite and send SW to special schools to maintain different systems. Of course, the latter would consult with the specialists inside the ship leading to “can you explain that for normal people” and “just let me go out and fix it instead of that idiot” reactions from SW and the other ratings respectively.

I honestly don’t know what to do with the TM. I don’t know the rate and despite all my time in the Navy never realized they were considered an engineering rating. Apparently, after I got out, the original version was merged into MM for submarines and separated only in the past few years.

There could be a much larger discussion of ratings. I haven’t covered navies other than the US, which may or may not match up exactly. I haven’t gotten into a lot of nuances or discussed new ratings for new technology. I just wanted to provide a simple overview for writers of space opera to have some interesting situations.

I hope you find this useful.

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  1. Alan Servello Alan Servello

    Regarding TM, someone has to know how those various space rocket weapons or photon torpedoes work, right? Don’t have to change the name at all, just assume that their job is loading, arming, and making adjustments to various propelled weaponry that are not simple metal slugs or lasers.

    • That works.

      I’m just unfamiliar with what the rate entails more than the rest of engineering, having been an MM you study a lot of the same material as the BTs did and I was an ersatz MR and HT.

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