In addition to what the others have said, in real life, international space law was based on maritime law. They even based directions on maritime law as the sailors used the stars to navigate, and that’s all you have in space to navigate with. So rockets and spacecraft call their directions the same as ships and sailing vessels, they have a port and starboard side, a bow and stern, up is zenith, down is nadir.

Fun fact the actual directions have some cool historical meanings. Nadir is the lowest point in elevation in the surrounding area, aka the bottom of the boat, and zenith is the area directly above you. So you could measure your latitude by measuring a star’s position relative to your zenith. Port was the side you docked on, because your steering oar was on your right. Starboard is a bastardization of the word stéorbord which is what the steering oar was called.


And it is important to note that the civilian aviation sector copied over civilian maritime sector.

The person in charge of the aircraft is the Captain, followed by numbers officers. This is similar to what happens in shipping. The chief flight attendant on an aircraft is the purser, which is the chief steward on a naval ship. There used to be Chief Engineer positions on some aircraft, similar to Chief Engineer positions on naval vessels.

The only reason the Air Force has its rank structure currently is because it branched off the Army.

Outdoor_Catgirl, avatar

It’s called a spaceSHIP

DefinitelyNotAPhone, avatar

Space is an ocean. That’s why there’s space whales.

Pat_Riot, avatar

It’s a ship. You use ship terms.


More specifically because travel in space is nearer travel underwater like a sub than flying in a plane.


Because people don’t live in an airplane together for long periods of time. Pilots in sci fi are often aviation themed, but captains are naval because spaceships beyond our current level are closer to battleships, cruise ships, or aircraft carriers than fighter jets or passenger liners.


“Why do they use” is a question. “Why they use” is an explanation.


Downvote all you like, I’m gonna keep correcting people who make this mistake.


I believe you mean, “Even if you, ‘down-vote,’ my comment, I shall continue to correct people who have made that mistake.”


I meant exactly what I said, and it is grammatically-correct casual English. Unlike ‘why in sci-fi they use Navy ranks?’ Or any of the hundred other ‘how to fix problem?’ examples I’ve seen, over the last decade.

This is a growing error and I am doing the bare minimum to help people stop making it. I’d understand if you find it overly prescriptivist. I’d understand if my phrasing was somehow impolite or unhelpful. But I have nothing kind to say about people mocking the effort.

Default_Defect, avatar

Don’t you know? Correcting someone’s grammar or spelling is ableist and you have to just try to understand the fountain of garbage that people spew or you’re literally Hitler.


noone likes a grammer nasi


I feel like especially in titles space is at a premium so omitting words that aren’t actually needed to avoid ambiguity in the given context is fine


When the missing word is do, I am unmoved by concerns about space.

Dalek_Thal, avatar

Seriously mate, you didn’t warn about the TVTropes link? Some of us need to go to bed!


You must suffer with me


I was a good two hours on that bloody site, yawning my head off but unable to look away.

lanolinoil, avatar

Because they’re way more like ships than they are planes – Planes don’t stay in the air indefinitely or take long voyages, have large crews, etc – They often treat the fighter pilot space ship people like AF though – Like if I have a ‘carrier’ with a bunch of smaller ships on it


Space warfare is much closer to naval warfare on Earth, so naval tactics and strategies are more transferable when applied to space. For example: taking weeks to maneuver, and firing at your opponent 100,000 of kms away.

Air sorties are typically completed within hours, because it is ultimately limited by the fuel they can carry.

oscardejarjayes, avatar

You’ll sometimes see aviation terms for the little fighters that launch from the larger ships, like in macross. I think it’s a matter of scale, really. An airplane will usually have single digit crew, maybe double digit. A warship will have hundreds, and the bigger the ship the more the crew.

Ithorian, avatar


pudcollar, (edited )

I wonder if it has much to do with the USAF being a relatively new service with a proportional cultural impact, coming into being as a service in 1947. Up until then, combat aviation was subordinate to the Army and Navy. This would point to a preponderance of Army/Navy WWII vets among the show’s consultants and audience.


In addition to all the other reasons offered re: functional analogy, many of the aviation terms themselves come from naval / boating / sea-faring. Pilot is a good example, previously having been used in the sense of “riverboat pilot,” etc.

FaceDeer avatar

A notable exception is the Stargate franchise, where Earth's spacecraft are largely run by the US Air Force.


True, but it’s only because the Stargate program is an Air Force program

FaceDeer avatar

Why does it matter why?


Because it explains why I guess. It’s the Air Force who has the space ships because those were possible only thanks to the Stargate program which was run by Air Force for around 6 years I think before Earth got it’s first spaceship (if you don’t count the goa’uld glider with Air Force decals slapped on it)


It also makes sense to not focus on the naval aspects of space flight when you almost never actually fly through space, and almost all your potential theaters of war share a common border (the stargate).


Also ExFor series where the UN’s only starship is run by the US Army. But that’s more… a consequence of events that lead an infantry soldier to inexplicably be in command of a starship. He even mentions how unusual the whole situation is, and to be in command over actual UN Navy officers. But he remains in command through being the only experienced skipper of a space warship in all of humanity regardless of being in the Army.

He also muses that starships wouldn’t be best to be crewed by blue water navy forces, but rather submariners because they too cannot go above deck and are accustomed to long deployments in a tube. A lot of space warfare in that series is sensor evasion and standoff engagements, also like subs.

Haha also has funny lines like “I tossed the ball against the wall. I guess I should call it a bulkhead but I’m in the Army and we call them walls”


Love ExFor. Did you listen to the audio drama? I think it’s like book 7.5 or something

blashork, avatar

I gotta imagine that each planet in a sci fi setting would have its oen airforce, where as the compasion of space to a vast ocean makes sense for the organization tasked with patroling it.

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