SDN Starship Design Commentaries

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SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Borgholio » 2016-07-19 09:43pm

Starting a thread based on the tangent we found ourselves on in the Phaser Turrets vs Strips thread. Here we will try to organize a plausible explanation and history of various aspects of starship design. Naturally this will begin with an analysis of Star Trek vessels, since that's where we left off in the other thread.

I think a good first topic would be the evolution of ship safety and survivability from the earliest designs, such as old freighters such like the Horizon (ENT) to modern Galaxy and Sovereign class ships. One thing that comes to mind is the transition from modern wet-navy bulkheads and hatches that can be manually latched to (relatively) weak automated doors that are not very secure, and the reliance of forcefields in place of security and blast doors in most places. Or, as discussed in the previous thread, why there aren't any blow-out panels to redirect exploding plasma conduits AWAY from crew spaces. On a similar note, why the warp core isn't behind several layers of heavy armor with it's own blow-out panel to (hopefully) redirect the bulk of a core breach out of the ship?
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Batman » 2016-07-19 09:54pm

WRT the Warp Core-because that doesn't work. It's irrelevant if the released antimatter interacts with armour, Lt. Nobody's lunch box, the 24th century equivalent of an Ipad, there's going to be an explosion. You CAN'T redirect an M/AM reaction using physical armour unless you have a material that doesn't react with antimatter. Which, other than dilithium crystals (which I gather are rare) the Federation doesn't have.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-07-19 10:23pm

Do be careful that you do not confuse bad design decisions with design compromises which may be impossible to fully understand from any canon evidence. All ships are compromises, anything that has to move is going to be on some level, but a warship is about the ultimate mashup of it.

Borgholio wrote: Or, as discussed in the previous thread, why there aren't any blow-out panels to redirect exploding plasma conduits AWAY from crew spaces.


Blowout panels don't really work for detonations would be one possible reason, and some of those blasts appear pretty violent. The ones on certain tanks are designed to deal with gunpowder deflagrations, not explosions. indeed one of the weaknesses of such designs is that if you have HEAT rounds in the racks, they'll detonate anyway and blow through the armor bulkhead. Only solution to that is (other then IM design of the ammo, which still has limits) is to put the HEAT rounds in the center of the ammo rack, surrounded by empty space and sabots, and hope you can abandon the tank before they get around to cooking off.

As noted already a warp core detonation is clearly too powerful for rational passive armor to control the explosion in any useful sense. To be safer it needs to be engineered on a very different basis. The real question should be why does the warp core contain enough latent energy to destroy the ship in the first place? And why is it buried in the center of the ship? Why can't it operate with less instantaneous reactivity? Aka have less anti matter in it at any given time. Then work forward from that.

But that already hits the problem of we don't know much about how they actually work, and its very questionable that Trek anti matter complies with the rules of real anti matter.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-07-19 10:46pm

Oh its also worth considering, maybe they would rather the bridge crew get maimed then redirecting explosions into nearby compartments that might hold vital hardware? Given the safety standards applied to away teams (none) and the generalized faith in technology over humanity so often running around in Trek that kind of decision choice might not be out of the question. I don't think they ever lost a battle because the entire bridge crew was dead...

Of course if one 120mm shell burned on the bridge everyone very much would be dead except Data, but sometimes one must pay a price for progress!
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Knife » 2016-07-19 10:48pm

One thing that comes to mind is the transition from modern wet-navy bulkheads and hatches that can be manually latched to (relatively) weak automated doors that are not very secure, and the reliance of forcefields in place of security and blast doors in most places.


Easy way to go about this is that when they went antimatter, when not in warp (or perhaps when they are) they have excess energy making force fields more attractive of a solution to problems then physical ones.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby bilateralrope » 2016-07-19 11:06pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:Aka have less anti matter in it at any given time. Then work forward from that.


So now, instead of having all the antimatter in the warp core you have it in three places:
- Warp core
- Antimatter storage
- Transfer system between the two

Then you have the problem of a small breach causing enough damage to cause a larger breach, causing a chain reaction that takes breaches all containment anyway.

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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Patroklos » 2016-07-19 11:08pm

Knife wrote:
One thing that comes to mind is the transition from modern wet-navy bulkheads and hatches that can be latched to (relatively) weak automated doors that are not very secure, and the reliance of forcefields in place of security and blast doors in most places.


Easy way to go about this is that when they went antimatter, when not in warp (or perhaps when they are) they have excess energy making force fields more attractive of a solution to problems then physical ones.



The problem with the force fields is they don't fail in the most benign position. Nor can they be operated in an unpowered ship. When I think about reasons you would need maximized compartmentalizations then tend to correspond to situations where power generation or distribution have a high chance of being in jeopardy.

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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Sidewinder » 2016-07-19 11:16pm

For smaller starships, I think we should investigate the possibility of using non-antimatter using power plants, for increased safety. World navies don't use nuclear reactors on each and every single ship in their fleets, after all- small ships don't need that much energy, anyways, meaning a small nuclear reactor is a waste of resources.

Can small fusion or fission reactors power a shuttlecraft or runabout's warp drive? If so, then use such a power plant for the shuttlecrafts and runabouts.

We should also investigate the possibility of using non-antimatter armed torpedoes, to increase safety. I understand you need an antimatter warhead's punch to destroy something like a D'deridex class warbird, but what about smaller targets, like a Klingon bird-of-prey? Is it cost-effective and efficient to mount traversing micro-torpedo launchers on larger warships (see real-world examples here), or should the deck space be better used for something else, including fixed and full-size torpedo launchers?
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-07-19 11:16pm

bilateralrope wrote:
So now, instead of having all the antimatter in the warp core you have it in three places:
- Warp core
- Antimatter storage
- Transfer system between the two

Then you have the problem of a small breach causing enough damage to cause a larger breach, causing a chain reaction that takes breaches all containment anyway.


No then you have a problem with bilateralrope forgetting that that stuff all already exists in canon, and thus was the rational for questioning the situation in the first place. See link below which took .3 seconds to locate and even has a diagram of how the storage-core-warp nacelle system is configured.
http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Antimatter_pod

In fact in several situations where the core is going to blowup they also mention the need to eject or risk to the pods from loss of containment, but that's still no reason to make ONE EVEN BIGGER BOMB on the ship. At least the ship has a chance of surviving ejection of the core and the pods in canon, and one would hope they launch out at different angles to disperse the resulting blasts. It might very well not have a chance to survive 100% of the anti matter going up as a single point detonation.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-07-20 12:25am

Sidewinder wrote:For smaller starships, I think we should investigate the possibility of using non-antimatter using power plants, for increased safety. World navies don't use nuclear reactors on each and every single ship in their fleets, after all- small ships don't need that much energy, anyways, meaning a small nuclear reactor is a waste of resources.

Can small fusion or fission reactors power a shuttlecraft or runabout's warp drive? If so, then use such a power plant for the shuttlecrafts and runabouts.

We should also investigate the possibility of using non-antimatter armed torpedoes, to increase safety. I understand you need an antimatter warhead's punch to destroy something like a D'deridex class warbird, but what about smaller targets, like a Klingon bird-of-prey? Is it cost-effective and efficient to mount traversing micro-torpedo launchers on larger warships (see real-world examples here), or should the deck space be better used for something else, including fixed and full-size torpedo launchers?


Wont work. Both fission and fusion power releases a tiny fraction (fission is ~.1% as efficient as M/AM annihilation). So any ship would have to be many orders of magnitude smaller, and power requirements would have to scale linearly with mass.

For earth navies, the energy required to move scales linearly with mass, so smaller ships dont need nuclear reactors. Pretty sure going to warp does not. It also does not matter how small your ship is when you need to power a shield system capable of shrugging off multiple Tsar Bombas, or shielding your ship from micrometeor (or just meteor) impacts. Or tossing multi KT/sec phaser shots about the cosmos.

As for less dangerous munitions...again, shielding on your enemy does not scale linearly with their mass.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-07-20 02:50am

Patroklos wrote:
Knife wrote:Easy way to go about this is that when they went antimatter, when not in warp (or perhaps when they are) they have excess energy making force fields more attractive of a solution to problems then physical ones.
The problem with the force fields is they don't fail in the most benign position.
True. On the other hand, force fields are nigh-immune to attack or contamination by chemical and biological agents. They can quite possibly be replaced more easily than a multi-ton slab of armor if they are somehow penetrated or destroyed. They can easily be monitored by the computer and reinforced if they start to weaken. They can be 'shaped' and manipulated with high precision (see the episode 'Brothers' where Data hijacks the ship and uses strategically placed force fields to stop multiple security teams from intercepting him on the way from the bridge to the transporters).

And they weigh less, which may not be a trivial consideration, given that we're talking about subdividing a very large ship into hundreds if not thousands of heavily armored compartments. The aggregate area of all that armor could easily run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of square meters. And we're talking about armor that, realistically, needs to be at least strong enough to repel, say, the cutting power of a standard hand phaser, or a wide variety of other comparable energy weapons. You'd probably need armor comparable in thickness and strength to that of modern tanks, which could easily end up weighing multiple tons per square meter, adding a great deal of mass to the ship as a whole, increasing power requirements, and increasing strain on any reinforcing force fields the ship needs (such as the structural integrity field).

Nor can they be operated in an unpowered ship.
I can think of reasons for Starfleet not to worry much about ship functionality in case of total power loss.

Assuming you don't have the ship's reactors just randomly failing all the time for no reason (which would itself be bad engineering), most circumstances under which the ship can lose power are situations where it's doomed no matter what happens. Most of the foreseeable reasons for a ship to lose power (enemy fire, cosmic anomaly) are also things that destroy powerless ships in a hurry.

So for all practical purposes, Starfleet's designers may figure that if the ship ever really loses all power, not just main power but all the backups, and cannot restore it in a timely manner... the ship is as good as lost anyway, and the risk of containment force fields losing power isn't a significant extra problem. Sort of like how navy designers don't really worry very much about designing spaces within a ship to keep the crew alive after the ship sinks. If the ship has sunk, and you're still on board, you are in all probability dead no matter what.

And a starship in a crisis that loses power entirely is... well, as good as sunk.

It's a bit appalling, but space is an appalling environment and Trek space is in some ways even more hostile than in real life, given the prevalence of bizarre cosmic anomalies and such.

The Enterprise may actually be unusual in being a ship that HAS repeatedly lost most or all of its power supplies in a crisis without getting destroyed, due to the improvisational skill of her crew.

When I think about reasons you would need maximized compartmentalizations then tend to correspond to situations where power generation or distribution have a high chance of being in jeopardy.
Fair point- but this can also be an argument for localized battery backups, which may be less bulky or cause fewer problems of other types.

For example, Starfleet ships tend to be big; replacing lightweight bulkheads with heavy slabs of impervious armor everywhere the armor might be needed might well increase overall hull weight unacceptably. It would also increase the difficulty of making repairs and modifications to the ship, which is a nontrivial concern given that Starfleet ships often remain in service for a century or so and presumably go through multiple rounds of refits during that time.

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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-07-20 05:24am

On the issue of force fields vs armored bulkheads, there is another consideration. In the event of a hull breach, they can be put in place instantly to seal the breach and surrounding sections. If your ship loses power, you are fucked anyway, and the smaller doors they use now only have to contain 1 atmosphere, and they dont have to be massive dog-hatched affairs. They will probably do the job anyway so crew quarters can still (probably) serve as impromptu lifeboats if the ship is not rendered to its component atoms.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-07-20 06:32am

Honestly, a lot of those doors don't look like they can contain one atmosphere of pressure. Suppose the doors on the Enterprise are, oh, seven and a half feet tall by, oh, three feet wide (this is a casual estimate). That's about 22.5 square feet of surface area, or 3240 square inches. That corresponds, given atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch, to a force of about forty-seven thousand pounds on the door.

While the doors on Starfleet ships may be made out of much stronger materials than we'd normally use to construct similar doors in real life, that doesn't mean they can resist a force equal to having a 20-ton or 25-ton weight sitting on them.

On the other hand, it seems as though Starfleet's atmosphere containment force fields CAN withstand that kind of force. Which helps to explain why Starfleet also uses them to confine prisoners and so on. It would take very heavily built physical restraints and walls to match that level of strength and durability.

We also know they use force fields to contain and snuff out fires (Up the Long Ladder), and they might well serve other damage control functions. Obviously that doesn't work if the power goes out. But as we've mentioned, the usual experience of a ship that loses power in an emergency is going to be a short, messy death. So designing for a total failure of the power distribution grid isn't necessarily going to be a high design priority.

Designing ships to be safe and usable and have some damage control that works even if all power fails makes sense, because even if you wreck all the engines and electric generators a ship still floats. As long as it floats, there's at least the hope of making repairs, and the likelihood of saving the passengers and crew.

Designing airplanes to be able to glide safely if all the engines go out is reasonable, because that's not incompatible with other design objectives. A plane with a good glide ratio is probably also a good airplane in general, and there's no reason to design a plane to have a bad glide ratio.

Designing starships to safely confine hazardous creatures or substances or cope with large scale depressurization, when the power supply has totally or failed, is NOT as sensible. It's still desirable, it's a thing you'd want, but if it forces you to double the weight of the ship in order to provide huge numbers of armored bulkheads and blast doors that will simply not be needed most of the time, which interfere with maintenance, and which most of the time could efficiently be replaced by force fields that don't have the same weight requirement... it may not be a good idea for Starfleet as a whole.

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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Enigma » 2016-07-20 07:41am

At least provide some heavy armor for the nacelles\pylons.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-07-20 08:41am

Alyrium Denryle wrote:For earth navies, the energy required to move scales linearly with mass, so smaller ships dont need nuclear reactors.


Actually it goes down steadily with size in real ships, particularly with ship length. A ship tripling in size probably only needs twice the power to maintain the same speed. Smaller high speed ships have crap for endurance as a result and would gain the most from nuclear reactors. They don't have them because the way we engineer, build and operate nuclear reactors makes small ones nearly as expensive as big ones, massively so, simply making it unrealistic to make anything smaller then a cruiser a nuke.

Though once you get below a couple thousand tons supporting a nuclear plant of any size becomes its own problem, mainly because the reactor shielding is such a heavy minimal weight.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2016-07-20 08:48am

Enigma wrote:At least provide some heavy armor for the nacelles\pylons.


That may be desirable, but considering no other race I know of armours their nacelles it clearly is not as much a problem as we on SDN would like to think.

Consider that in ST, ship defence is based entirely on shields from TOS onwards; hull armour disappears until the mid-DS9 era, because (as someone pointed out in the original thread), it's supremely impractical to give a starship armour that can withstand a 30-megaton blast going off right on top of it, or kT/sec phaser/disruptor shots.

In ST combat, a ship that has lost shields, or had them rendered useless, is as good as dead. Consider the USS Odyssey in DS9. Facing only two Jem'Hadar bugships, upon realising their shields are ineffective, they immediately try to run. The E-D in Generations, facing a BoP that apparently fires through shields, first order is to retreat.

Even with shields up, nacelles aren't considered a super-weak-point, otherwise we'd hear "target their nacelles" instead of "target their engines/weapons/warp core."
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby NecronLord » 2016-07-20 09:17am

Enigma wrote:At least provide some heavy armor for the nacelles\pylons.


A Cardassian! Get him!

More seriously, the Defiant has this, the Intrepid does not, and the Intrepid goes notably faster, while the Defiant's design brief was as a defensive vessel to engage the borg.

Given that multiple cultures including those isolated across the galaxy, that had far-flung settlement decided to build exposed nacelles - see the dominion for instance - while others such as the Cardassians and the Husnock armoured their warp engines, it may well be that having them outboard makes them go faster - the original intention for the TOS enterprise was that they were emitting harmful radiation and that was why they were way out there, and if that's the case, it may well be that bringing them inside the main hull and armouring them means you have to run them at a lower output for crew safety.

Building ships without nacelles might mean accepting that they'll be slow.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Starglider » 2016-07-20 09:40am

The warp nacelles probably aren't a priority target anyway. We know that ships can achieve FTL with only one working nacelle, and the majority of combat seems to happen at impulse speeds. So damaging the nacelles is only going to reduce their ability to (a) run away or (b) chase you down, it won't stop them from shooting at you. Reactor, weapons, sheilds, C&C are all better targets that will immediately reduce the enemy's combat capability. If anything you'd expect incoming shots to target the underside of the ship trying to set off the antimatter pods, which is potentially a one hit kill. Yet somehow in the large fleet battles we only see ships getting pounded into scrap or blowing apart in a fairly small explosion, not instant vaporisations and super-bright flashes of antimatter containment loss (either the ships or ejected pods/warp cores).
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby NecronLord » 2016-07-20 10:18am

I wonder if there is an emergency transport system that kicks in and beams the pods contents somewhere... away... during a breach. Diffuse am scattered across millions of cubic km is likely less of a threat.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-07-20 10:37am

Batman wrote:WRT the Warp Core-because that doesn't work. It's irrelevant if the released antimatter interacts with armour, Lt. Nobody's lunch box, the 24th century equivalent of an Ipad, there's going to be an explosion. You CAN'T redirect an M/AM reaction using physical armour unless you have a material that doesn't react with antimatter. Which, other than dilithium crystals (which I gather are rare) the Federation doesn't have.


You can stick the smegging thing on a mast away from the main hull, along with the warp/impulse engines, and blow them away from the ship, in case Starfleet regulations require a mandatory warp core breach.

Of course, you can still stick with the design similar to the Horizon, since that is safer, and not go "oooh, shiny, sleek, futuristic, force fields, sliding doors, and shit."

Oh, and to use an electrical system that doesn't result in Ensign Long Pig Done To a Turn, and blow up in bridge operators' faces every time a conduit ruptures. You know, like wiring, cabling, step-down transformers, circuit breakers and the like? I admit they're not as "shiny, cool, science-fictiony" as using volatile plasma to conduct electricity, but, it is both scaleable and actually works.

And, oh yes, realizing control systems do not require high voltage or high amperage.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2016-07-20 10:43am

U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
Batman wrote:WRT the Warp Core-because that doesn't work. It's irrelevant if the released antimatter interacts with armour, Lt. Nobody's lunch box, the 24th century equivalent of an Ipad, there's going to be an explosion. You CAN'T redirect an M/AM reaction using physical armour unless you have a material that doesn't react with antimatter. Which, other than dilithium crystals (which I gather are rare) the Federation doesn't have.


You can stick the smegging thing on a mast away from the main hull, along with the warp/impulse engines, and blow them away from the ship, in case Starfleet regulations require a mandatory warp core breach.


Well done, you've just described the engineering/secondary/stardrive hull section...the thing that almost every Starfleet design post NX-01 already does.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-07-20 10:46am

Eternal_Freedom wrote:
U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
Batman wrote:WRT the Warp Core-because that doesn't work. It's irrelevant if the released antimatter interacts with armour, Lt. Nobody's lunch box, the 24th century equivalent of an Ipad, there's going to be an explosion. You CAN'T redirect an M/AM reaction using physical armour unless you have a material that doesn't react with antimatter. Which, other than dilithium crystals (which I gather are rare) the Federation doesn't have.


You can stick the smegging thing on a mast away from the main hull, along with the warp/impulse engines, and blow them away from the ship, in case Starfleet regulations require a mandatory warp core breach.


Well done, you've just described the engineering/secondary/stardrive hull section...the thing that almost every Starfleet design post NX-01 already does.


Depends on how you define 'main hull'. Granted the saucer is the largest component in most designs.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2016-07-20 10:47am

The engineering section is repeatedly referred to as the "secondary" or "engineering" sectino from TNG onwards.
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-07-20 10:52am

Elheru Aran wrote:
Eternal_Freedom wrote:
U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
You can stick the smegging thing on a mast away from the main hull, along with the warp/impulse engines, and blow them away from the ship, in case Starfleet regulations require a mandatory warp core breach.


Well done, you've just described the engineering/secondary/stardrive hull section...the thing that almost every Starfleet design post NX-01 already does.


Depends on how you define 'main hull'. Granted the saucer is the largest component in most designs.


I'll re-phrase. On a mast away from the part of the ship where people live, work, play and slaughter the innocent.

There are actually living quarters on a GCS' engineering or stardrive hull. Quarters where civilians live, if Generations is any judge.

(one of those being evacuated from the stardrive hull is a little girl who loses her teddy bear)
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Re: SDN Starship Design Commentaries

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-07-20 11:04am

That's another issue right there.

Why are there children on a starship?

I get that you probably can't avoid having a certain number of civilians on a ship as fuckoff huge as the Enterprise-D, especially when a primary assignment of the ship is scientific exploration and discovery. It's still (as much as they would like to hide the fact) a ship which is going to find itself in combat, which has to be able to defend itself, which will be getting shot at. A ship which will be hundreds or thousands of light-years away from civilization as they know it at times. It's, quite frankly, a high risk environment. Gene Roddenberry was an idiot; the universe is not full of sweetness and light. I can accept the presence of *adult* civilians as scientists, researchers, etc. employed by Starfleet or the Federation, under contract, aware that they're in a potentially hazardous situation out on the fringes of the galaxy and willing to accept those risks.

But children? Children are a goddamn liability. They don't particularly have any use (Rascals aside, that was a cute episode. Silly, but cute), they're ready-made hostages should the villain of the week take over the ship, they make bad press if any one of them gets squashed in a transporter accident or Data's latest science experiment turns one into a monster, they tie up people who could be performing more essential functions on the ship than taking care of children, and so forth.

It's the... 24th century? They can damn well give everybody a shot that turns off their reproductive functions for a few years, and if someone goes off duty and wants to have kids, they can give them another shot and turn it right back on. I could accept taking refugees and their children aboard; I could accept a colony shipment; hell, I can even live with people being pregnant and continuing work at least until they give birth because maybe they're allergic to the contraceptive vaccine or something.

Starfleet shouldn't be taking care of children, nor putting them anywhere near danger like that. It's asinine, ill conceived, frankly unethical and possibly immoral. Certainly it made for a few interesting episodes, but those were few and far between.
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