Monday, October 1, 2012

Building a Crew of 72

This is a follow-up article to Building a Near Future World posted on September 10th where I discussed the environment and events resulting in the exploratory mission in my Near Future SFR, The Outer Planets. This week I'm highlighting how the crew was selected.

In my fictional world, crew selection criteria started with mission planning. In my writerly universe, I already knew who the hero and heroine would be aboard the ship. I built the ship around their stories.

But they had to have a bonafide reason to be included in the mission. The crew itself had to have logic to its selection. People don’t land at random on a multi-billion dollar vessel that might have the fate of mankind riding on its mission. They have specific skills that contribute to the mission with tailored training for the flight.

Scene from Defying Gravity TV series.
Unlike a space shuttle crew limited to a crew of seven, the NSS Destination is more akin to a floating colony. The ship is like a space station under power. It requires janitorial, food services, and other support staff in addition to science, medical, command, navigation, IT, public relations, engineering, and security staff, to name just a few.

Artificial magnetogravity allows for more “normal” shipboard life than what astronauts to date have experienced, but even with a crew of 72, every astronaut onboard would have to serve multiple roles in the microcosm of a space community.

So how would a crew be chosen? It seems obvious a crew of this size wouldn’t be strictly military or science personnel, as is the case with many of the shuttle missions. A crew ten times the size of a shuttle crew would require more dynamics and more diversity in their skill sets.

The name for this composite was based on a current military concept: The CJTF (Combined Joint Task Force) Concept. To break it down:

 ■ A force is any grouping of military capabilities, manpower and equipment in organized units.

 ■ A task force is a group organized for the purposes of carrying out a specific mission or task, which is then disbanded when the task has been accomplished.

 ■ A joint task force is one involving two or more military services (army, navy, airforce, etc.).

 ■ A combined joint task force involves the forces of two or more nations.

The NSS Destination (later rechristened the NSS Robert Bradley) employs a specialized team selected for the interplanetary exploration mission and its unique objectives—a CJTF/CI. A combined joint task force with civilian integration.

The international military/civilian crew is compiled from a huge applicant pool using a computer algorithm that determines the crew roster based on the individuals’ skill matrix and personality profile. Each individual fulfills a primary MAP (Mission Assignment Parameter) and two secondary MAPs (part-time or on an as-needed basis) in order to perform all the duties required.

This gives a lot of latitude in defining the culture of the ship. A spirit of exploration binds the crew, and camaraderie thrives even with inter-branch and military-civilian rivalries and national differences. In a crew of 72, friendships form without borders, and unique traditions and slang take shape from the every day—yet extraordinary—life shipboard.

Even so, perfect harmony is not the reality or the goal.

The Bradley crew selection is as much a science experiment as any other the crew will undertake during their mission. In fact, it’s a test—a selection prototype for future colonies. If the algorithm proves viable, it’ll be used to establish both surface-based and orbiting colonies of the future. The success of future colonization may depend on it.

But the selection matrix isn’t infallible. Five of those onboard have their own agendas. They’ve beaten or circumvented the selection matrix to join the crew. These wildcards will forever change the fate of the NSS Robert Bradley.

Your turn to sound off.  Do you have your own "personality algorithm" for creating your characters? What sort of "wildcard" personalities do you include among your characters, whether they be communities, military companies or groups of friends? 

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