Thursday, November 3, 2011

Worldbuilding: zero gravity, part 2

My previous post on zero gravity has racked up an impressive number of hits in just one week, so I guess there is some interest in the topic.

In my science fiction universe, a few generations (haven't nailed down how many) of kids have grown up in little or no gravity. Logically speaking, for people who grew up in zero gravity, these ideas would sound odd:

Things will fall when you let go -- well, duh, right? But more importantly than that, gravity will not be there to override the small amounts of angular momentum that we tend to put on things when we "just let go." We actually count on gravity (and friction) to take care of these things quite a bit. We also expect a ball, when thrown, to follow a curve down to the ground. In zero gravity, it would only move in straight lines. No matter how slowly. 

Things will stop moving on their own -- this ties into the previous point, specifically the role of friction in affecting movement. How often do you rely on something sliding to a stop? In zero gravity, objects will bounce off each other and friction won't have a chance to come into play (much).

Things will be where you left them -- not unless they were tied to something immobile. That little bit of momentum you gave your shoes when you took them off? They still have it as they drift around the room. Also, good air circulation is important in spaceships, of course, so there will be air currents everywhere. Over time, even a tiny force like that can push an object around.

Nothing unusual going on here.
In my scifi universe, generations of children have grown up without these basic assumptions. They expect things to float free, bounce a lot and wander on air currents. Something's missing? Check the air vents. When I started out, I carried over lots of ways to immobilize things -- velcro, sticky pads, magnets -- that do currently get used by astronauts, but after spending some time in the zero gee universe I started to question that. How badly will people want to impose immobility if they didn't grow up in a gravity field? Floating will be normal to them in a way I can't understand.

I expect these kids would have an innate understanding of inertia and leverage that is very different from mine. They would think in three dimensions more fully than I do. You know what I found helpful in expanding my brain that way? There's a documentary series called Dogfights. The episodes feature re-creations and in-depth analysis of airborne combat from World War I through... I think the most recent one was the Gulf War. They interview the pilots whenever possible and explain/illustrate the maneuvers wonderfully. There are a bunch of clips at the link there, but it's out on DVD too.

Even then, if you really watch those fights closely you'll see that the pilots aren't spreading out into three dimensions as much as they theoretically could. But it will get your brain burbling.


Stephanie said...

Have you checked out Karl Schroeder's VIRGA series, starting with "Sun of Suns" and continuing on for several books? His world-building is fascinating and dolled out expertly from the viewpoint characters in a way that's absolutely natural. AND, the reason I mention it, is that the cultures are built in various no to little gravity and all it implies.

Also, old school, "The Integral Trees" by Niven. Natch. ;)

Gail Shepherd said...

The idea of never having known gravity is so cool. It's such an odd idea that if you let something go, you may never see it again. Which has tons of philosophical implications, too.

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