FTL – A Quick Overview

 

Faster than light travel (FTL) is a(n as-yet) fictional trope that is used to allow stories to happen on scales larger than a single solar system.  Nothing we’ve found so far indicates that faster than light travel is possible, let alone practical, but it makes things like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica possible as stories.

As noted on TV Tropes, there are three broad ‘favorites’ when it comes to FTL:

  • “Warp” Drives: the ship distorts space around it to go really fast, so it stays in this universe but breaks the laws of physics in ways we haven’t figured out how to yet. Star Trek has made this a household word.
  • “Jump” Drives: the ship finds itself in a special point in space, does some math, pushes a button, and appears instantly at its destination.  This is the kind that the Galactica uses.
  • “Hyperdrives”: the ship somehow breaks out of our current universe into a place where the ‘speed of light’ is faster.  Star Wars and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy prefer this type of FTL.

Overall, the actual mechanics don’t effect the story, but it’s an interesting topic in and of itself.  For as much information as you could possibly want, the fantastic website Atomic Rockets has a large page on it: http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/fasterlight.php

CIC

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The Battlestar Galactica’s Combat Information Center, or CIC, is a medical-theater-like room that acts as the military nerve center and brain of the Galactica.  It is located near the center of the ship, is heavily armored and protected by armed guards, and has a staff of between 35-50 people.

The two highest ranking officers on the ship, Commander Adama and Colonel Tigh, typically stand at the center of the auditorium around the Command Board.  This position lets them hear status reports from around the room, and issue orders to the entire ship.

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Various pods of workstations provide seating for the rest of the staff.  These stations are grouped by function.  We see Navigation crew sitting near other navigation crew, weapons officers near other combat functions, communications near the center, and engineering given a special area up top.

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Phone kiosks are placed throughout the CIC, with two high profile kiosks on the Command Board.  Large display boards and the central Dradis Console provide information to the entire crew of the CIC.

 

Organized Chaos

The CIC is dealing with a lot of information from all over the ship and trying to relate it to the lead officers who are making decisions.  There is a lot of activity related to this information overload, but the design of the CIC has organized it into a reasonably effective flow.

Teams communicate with each other, then that decision flows forward to lead officers, who relate it to Admiral Adama.
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Orders flow in the opposite direction.

Admiral Adama can very quickly shout out an order from the center of the CIC and have his lead officers hear it all around him.  It can also act as a failsafe: other officers can also hear the same order and act as a confirmation step.  From there, the officers can organize their teams to distribute more detailed orders to the entire ship.

Large screens show information that the entire CIC needs to know, while smaller screens display information for specific crew or groups.

Overall, the stadium-like construction of the CIC works well for the low tech approach that the Galactica takes after.  Without introducing automation and intelligent computer networks onto the bridge, there is little that could be done to improve the workflow.

Battlestar Galactica Overview

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Battlestar Galactica (here meaning the mini series that launched the show, not the 4-season show itself) is based around an extremely large battleship/carrier spaceship and the crew that serves on her.  The Galactica is a vessel more than 50 years old, and was built during a time when humanity was in a life or death struggle with the Cylons—a species of sentient AI and robots.

And, as usual with these reviews:

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The Cylons haven’t been seen since the end of that war, and the Galactica is one of the few ships from that time still operating.  It’s seemingly backwards and simple technology was dictated by the enemy.  Cylons were able to hack into and take over any networked device, which meant that only the simplest weapons could be used to fight them.

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We catch the Galactica just at the end of its life, as it’s about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum.  It is at that moment that the Cylons strike humanity again by firing nuclear weapons at every major city in the 12 Human Colonies.

The entirety of Humanity’s army is quickly scrambled to fight the Cylons, but they have infiltrated the networks that run all of the current weapons and ships that Humanity has available.  By the end of the first episode, only the Galactica (that survived due to it’s old design) and a small flotilla of civilian ships has survived.

The Galactica and its crew then spend the rest of the miniseries attempting to fight their way out of the Cylon ambush to safety.