Getting There By Candlelight

candle (n.): A candle, or putt-putt, is the simplest transport spacecraft that can be devised, consisting essentially of a tank of hypergolic rocket fuel powering a thrust motor and a simple reaction-control frame. The pilot, supported by their vacuum suit, rides the candle – the tank itself – in much the same manner as a velocipede.

The additional accoutrements and controls of a candle vary widely by type. Most common are stabilization gyros, to make their handling less temperamental in the face of mass shifts. Commercial models often include a range of accessories: fly-by-wire navigation, Orbital Positioning Systems, a comfortable saddle and space for passengers, cargo panniers, canned life support reserves, and so forth.

But the virtue of a candle is its simplicity. One can be put together out of parts readily obtainable from even a half-stocked chandler, or for that matter from those lying around any wreckyard, or even crash site. Such a scrap-candle may consist of little more than the tank and motors, with handhold bars and lash-downs for bagged cargo welded on where they might be useful. Some go so far as to strip the navigation system down to a row of firing switches for each motor, requiring the pilot to figure burn times and vectors by eye, or at least by pocket-contents.

Indeed, in many spacer cultures across the Worlds, building one’s first candle from parts, salvaged, scrounged, and where necessary even purchased, is considered a rite of passage for the young. More cynical observers consider the true rite of passage being making one’s first candle flight without having to be ignominiously hauled home by the Orbit Guard.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary

 

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