Seeing as I wrote a little earlier on why my universe is compliant with one of the common misconceptions about space travel, I figured I’d follow it up with a few words on the other one I bend all out of shape: Rockets Are Not Hotels.
Well, actually, I’m mostly compliant with this one. As the Atomic Rocket site points out, there’s no point in going to the trouble and expense and engineering difficulty of putting a pressure hull around the payload/cargo (which mostly doesn’t care), the fuel (which definitely doesn’t care, and on the off-chance that a cryogenic deuterium tank springs a leak, you want it to leak outside into space – never mind hydrogen’s awkward habit of diffusing through damn near everything), the engines (which also mostly don’t care; the engineers might, you might think, but they have maintenance robots to teleoperate and weren’t planning on making a personal acquaintance with the business end of a fusion torch anyway; it’s not good for the chromosomes), and so on and so forth. So the spaceships of the Worlds, by and large, maintain that large-framework-of-struts-with-everything-bolted-onto-them, sometimes with a nice shroud/fairing over the top for purely aesthetic reasons and/or to support the radiators.
On the other hand, though, the habitable areas of Empire’s starships are at least as luxurious – in their own way – as the Enterprise, and have been for quite some time, mass penalty or no mass penalty. (Phoenix Zero, the first orbital flight, described as resembling “an explosion in a girder factory that had previously collided with a chemical plant, sitting atop a giant steel washer”, avoided this, but they’ve been getting steadily more luxurious ever since.)
There are four main reasons behind this:
1. While there is no escaping the Tyranny of the Rocket Equation entirely, it does start looking a mite less tyrannous when you start out with nuclear-pulse (“Orion”) drives as your launchers and move on from there to various other nuclear engines. Also, while you still have to suffer the mass penalty in operation, it helps once you get construction in space going and so don’t have to bring all that mass up from downwell in the first place.
2. Marketing. The Spaceflight Initiative was never a government or a government-supported program, in the Empire’s history. They knew their audience, investors, contributors, etc., and their tastes pretty well, and so they knew perfectly well that to keep the money flowing, it would help if they could make all their spacecraft look as sexy as, say, the Dragon 2.0.
3. Crew health. Compared to humans, eldrae need much more personal space. They build bigger to reflect this, ’cause living all piled up on top of each other like we do in cities – and in European cities, especially, in my experience – is just intensely stressful and unpleasant for them – a typical apartment size there, for example, is the quarter-floor or double quarter-floor. Which is one thing if you’re just making a relatively short orbital flight (although still hardly pleasant), but once you’re going to be asking people to live in a starship for weeks or months at a time, not making it big and comfortable is just asking for cabin fever to the point of outright psychosis.
And on that note, it’s also much, much cheaper to pay people to invent creative super-light materials like glassboard and aerogel, etc., than it is to pay the medical bills – or pay people enough to be willing to do it in the first place. The supply of people willing to put up with terrible conditions for the sake of going to space will always be smaller than the supply of people excited about going to space in comfort, which is important once your promises inevitably dwindle from “you could be the first soph on the moon!” to “you could be the 17th soph to service Geostationary Communications Satellite #5”.
4. Sybarites. The Imperials have been a decadent bunch of folks for as long as they’ve existed. Certain comforts and, y’know, standards of civilized living are expected as the default, and everyone knows this. So, if the Initiative is spending twenty-two billion esteyn on its lunar mission, its Directorate aren’t even going to think twice before signing the check for another two billion on top in luxuries, decent-sized cabins to put them in, and extra propellant to lift said luxuries and cabins, allocated to “crew comfort and marketing”. In their civilizational paradigm, it’s just good business.