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I haven't gone through in detail for all the Starfleet vessels I know of, but it seems that all Enterprises seen in the TV show and movies have bridges positioned right in the top middle of the saucer section. I am wondering why this is. This seems to be a very vulnerable location, and in at least one instance (ENT episode "Twilight") the bridge's vulnerable location leads to its destruction. It seems like a bad idea to have the bridge positioned there.

I seem to recall Gene Roddenberry had specified this always be the location of the bridge for Starfleet ships. Whether or not this is the case, I still must ask, "Why?"

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There is a related question on Worldbuilding SE – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 11 at 21:10
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Given the types of high-energy weapons used on Trek, aren't they pretty much relying entirely on shields to protect all parts of the ship, not physical insulation? I would imagine that even if the bridge was buried in the center of the ship, without the shields a phaser or photon torpedo would tear through the outer layers like butter and blow it up all the same. – Hypnosifl Jan 11 at 22:29
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@Hypnosifl It's not really about Trek weapons being high-energy, as much as it is about Trek ships being "elegant" - they rely almost entirely on their shields for protection (and even then, the damage "leaks" through the shields a lot). Star Wars ships sling far higher-energy weapons at each other, and they are still armoured heavily. From a physical standpoint, this makes perfect sense - your shield is only as strong as your superstructure; if someone throws a rock at you and your structure can't take it, it will rip your shield generator out of the ship :P – Luaan Jan 12 at 9:37
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1 noted instance doesn't sound like it's particularly vulnerable. Especially when you compare it to the real vulnerability: highly sensitive explosive packs hidden in consoles - those things must go off in over 90% of the episodes, often inuring or killing crew! – Eborbob Jan 12 at 14:01
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@Hypnosifl Well, momentum is conserved. That means that deflecting a rock means applying momentum to your ship. So either you have to move the shield (which would negate usefulness of such a shield), or you have to apply the momentum to the shield generator. If the shield generator is well integrated with the ship structure, this simply accelerates the ship - if it isn't, you cause damage to the structure or the shield generator. Also, note that the "console effects" only became "mainstream" in TNG - before that, it was first seen in the Kobayashi Maru, where it was a way to simulate damage. – Luaan Jan 12 at 14:37
up vote 63 down vote accepted

In the Star Trek: Next Generation Technical Manual, it is mentioned that the Bridge module is replaceable. This makes a case for why the bridge should be where it is.

The concept of the replaceable bridge module originated during Star Trek V, when we were working with Herman Zimmerman on a new Enterprise bridge that was quite a bit different from the one seen in Star Trek IV. We rationalized that this was because the bridge, located at the top of the saucer, was a plug-in module designed for easy replacement. This would permit the ship's control systems to be upgraded, thereby extending the useful lifetime of a starship, and would make it easier to customize a particular ship for a specific type of mission. This concept also fits the fact that we've seen the main bridges of at least four different Miranda class starships, the Reliant (Star Trek II), the Saratoga (Star Trek IV), the Lantree (Unnatural Selection) and the Brattain (Night Terrors), each of which had a different bridge module.

The problems with this placement are clear, but we also see that unshielded starships are extremely vulnerable. If an enemy wanted to destroy your ship, they would be better served by targeting the reactor. If they wanted to kill the bridge crew specifically, they could always beam them out into space, no matter where the bridge was located.

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An excellent find. Since they need to be able to slot it out and slot it back in again, burying it in the guts of the ship makes no sense. – Valorum Jan 11 at 20:59
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@Richard Of course, replacing the whole bridge just to upgrade the control systems seems a bit of a waste. But oh well, this is the universe that led to plasma conduits routed directly through the control consoles. At least replacing the bridge has benefits (likely allowing the whole upgrade to be done significantly quicker, which might be quite important in the tiny Federation fleet). – Luaan Jan 12 at 9:28
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But, we repeatedly see vessels in stardock being constructed in the old fashioned way, welders and workers. Transporters are rarely used for large objects, and it is mentioned in an episode that the cargo transporters are lower resolution, and cannot safely transport people. Its entirely possible the energy doesn't scale linearly, or lining up pieces in a multi-step transport operation is impossible/difficult. – ench Jan 12 at 20:34
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Amusing side note: in an episode of Enterprise, Lt. Reed has a line saying, "There's no rule that a bridge has to be at the top of a ship." (while he and Trip are looking around the inside of the Romulan unmanned vehicle). Of course, he's an armory guy and not a construction engineer, so even in-universe he's allowed to be wrong. :-) – Ti Strga Jan 12 at 22:42
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The battle bridge, yes. Its located in the neck of the ship on the Enterprise-D. Your comment is amusingly accurate, as the set for this bridge was actually repurposed from the TOS bridge, if I remember correctly. – ench Jan 13 at 15:27

Officially, because Gene Roddenberry said so. Part of the ship design parameters places the bridge on the top of the ship as per his specifications. He had strict design parameters set for all the ships of the series.

enter image description here

Roddenberry's Design Rules: The following are Gene Roddenberry's official design rules. I found them at Jim Stevenson's Starship Schematic Database.

"Years ago, I was lucky enough to attend an Industrial Design class conducted at a Star Trek convention by Andrew Probert, head of the design team for the Enterprise in ST:TMP and primary designer of the Enterprise-D. He was nice enough to relay to me the 'Unofficial Starship Design Rules' as told to him by Gene Roddenberry..."

Rule #1 Warp nacelles must be in pairs.

Rule #2 Warp nacelles must have at least 50% line-of-sight on each other across the hull.

Rule #3 Both warp nacelles must be fully visible from the front.

Rule #4 The bridge must be located at the top center of the primary hull. Recently Andrew Probert confirmed at Trekplace that these are really the design rules that Roddenberry and he himself nailed down for TNG.

  • Given the metaphor of starships as battleships, and Roddenberry's military experience, he is placing the bridge of the ship in the same place it would be on most military naval vessels of his time. Note the windows in the front of the bridge area. Substitute bridge monitor on board a starship for the viewports.

enter image description here

  • However, in the real military, the bridge is capable of viewing the external world because Captain's and their command crew might want to be able to SEE their enemy with binoculars or other optical equipment. In space, this makes no sense, since the enemy is far beyond the range of normal vision.

enter image description here

  • Scientifically speaking, given that it's a starship and uses external sensors, it doesn't necessarily make sense for the command region to be physically at the top of the ship. In fact, the actual bridge should be deep within the ship like the auxiliary bridge control area is on combat Federation vessels.

  • Since Federation starships are equipped with shields and the forward shields are the strongest shields on the ship, perhaps it is no more vulnerable than any place else on a starship, since without the shields, most ships don't appear to be able to withstand a concentrated barrage of fire from enemy vessels anyway.

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since Federation vessels are ostensibly not combat vessels, perhaps his goal was to put the bridge right out in front as a sign of openness? – KutuluMike Jan 11 at 19:29
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Perhaps. I related to it immediately as former Navy personnel, so I can understand, but given their technology it didn't HAVE to be there for any reason other than aesthetics. – Thaddeus Howze Jan 11 at 19:31
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In space, this makes no sense, since the enemy is far beyond the range of normal vision. In some episode crew members look out the window and actually see nearby ships when in fact they probably should be too far away to see! – Michael Jan 12 at 1:18
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The future Enterprise in All Good Things had three nacelles. – Lucas Jan 12 at 17:57
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Many of these rules were violated after Roddenberry's death. DS9 is filled with such ship violations. – Thaddeus Howze Jan 13 at 18:37

The bridge is actually not a valuable target on a fighting ship. Killing the captain and some of the command staff will not render the ship inoperable. It is more valuable to target ammunition storage, engines or power systems in an attempt to sink (in this case depressurize), disable or destroy the target.

In the case of space travel, I believe that a fighting spacecraft would have a similar design to that of a submarine.

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Why would a decapitation strike not work on a spaceship? – March Ho Jan 11 at 22:38
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@MarchHo because most systems can also be controlled from engineering? – Zoredache Jan 11 at 23:14
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@MarchHo: You wanna die when the chief engineer demonstrates zero restraint? Not me. – Joshua Jan 11 at 23:25
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@Joshua "Computer, transfer command functions to Engineering, Authorization LaForge Omega One Four Seven" – Michael Jan 12 at 1:22
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+1: In playing the hit indie game FTL, one finds that the best areas of an opponent ship to target are their weapons, shields, and/or engine. The bridge is important, but destroying it won't necessarily net you a win. Understandably, this is only one fiction and the Star Trek universe may have distinctly different mechanics, but still. – Slipp D. Thompson Jan 12 at 7:43

TPTB worked around this issue a bit in The Next Generation. In addition to the main bridge at the top of the saucer section, the Enterprise-D had a "Battle Bridge" located in the drive section of the ship. The two bridges were connected by a dedicated turboshaft. I believe that the battle bridge was only used in the show when the saucer and drive sections were separated, and that the battle bridge was located at the top of the "neck" of the ship and was therefore just as exposed as the main bridge when the sections were operating separately, but the battle bridge was more heavily armored and had smaller windows (or maybe no windows?)

So to answer the question, at least as it relates to ST:TNG: they were able to position the bridge so vulnerably (or to look at it another way, so prominently) because it could be vulnerable: they have a dedicated secondary bridge for battle situations.

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There's a multi-part answer to this.

This is not an actual spaceship. It's an elaborate fantasy backdrop upon which the actors play out mostly ancient and classic story types. The bridge of the starship is the "executive suite," where the leaders lead from. You don't see the President of the USA or the CEO of Apple setting up their offices in the bowels of the cellar.

The bridge is where the Executive-class folks hang out. They're the bigwigs. The bridge needs to have an executive flair to it, and being up in the apex of the ship helps us earth-bound folk understand it.

Finally: the layout of the bridge and the notion of its importance and placement really has to make sense to us, the viewers, not to be actually an appropriate layout for running a real ship. Also, it has to be pretty handy to the camera people getting the shots. One of the reasons that the layout is circular...no matter what angle you take your focus on the captain, there's a flash of equipment/tech station behind him.

The layout of the ship also has to be flawed in order to allow for plot twists and conundrums.

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"What does in-universe mean"? – Valorum Jan 13 at 0:55
    
@Richard The first half of this answer works in-universe, but considering the OP references out-of-universe reasoning, there's no reason for answers to constrain themselves to in-universe explanations. – TylerH Jan 13 at 16:22
    
This answer is the least fun, but sadly, it makes the most sense. – Mark Meuer Jan 14 at 18:57
    
@MarkMeuer, I definitely concur. Least fun. Unless, of course, you're WRITING episodes...then the meta-tech becomes a bit more fun! I mean, think of it...how many years were Batman and Robin strapped to a conveyor belt with pink velvet bathrobe-ties, and the bad guys LEAVE THE AREA to let the dynamic duo inexorably inch toward their demise...only to save themselves at the last second? An in-universe person/henchman would say "hey, boss...why don't we just put a slug in their hippocampus?" – dwoz Jan 16 at 2:03

Really a starship bridge would be more inside the vessel, but for aesthetics relating to sailing ships, having a bridge that can be prominant and easily located is natural. Let's face the fact that even though the enterprise is'nt designed to enter the atmosphere of a planet, it still is shown as being upright even relation to other spaceships even though there is no up or down in space.Now some ships like the defiant class have enclosed bridges, and less prominant profiles. And in later star trek shows you see the full use of xyz axis manuevering, as well in the jj abrams movies. In real life the beautiful shapes of the trek starships we all love wouldn't be practical designs.

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How practical or not they would be depends entirely on the technology available. And Star Trek handwaves a lot of issues with technology - wherever it's possible to use some high-tech gadget, you can bet they use the highest-tech gadget available. Overal ship shape is just one example of this, and it's mainly driven by the extreme reliance on shields and "structural integrity fields" (How does it hold together under stress? It just does.). Most of the weirdest design decisions stem from this basic design philosophy - a showcase of high-tech gadgets. – Luaan Jan 12 at 14:43

Because once the shields are down, it doesn't really matter where the bridge is located. If your aggressor still has shields, whether you're buried deep in the ship or not - you're still dead as you have no ability to repel the enormous amounts of damage that enemy weapons deliver.

In addition, in a combat scenario where all sorts of jamming and electronic failure are possible you don't necessarily want to rely on those systems to be able to navigate through the confrontation. In many of the fleet engagements we see in Star Trek, within a relatively short amount of time the encounter takes place within visual range and much like when piloting an aircraft or driving a car - you want to be able to see where you're going as opposed to looking down at a display (which may be destroyed in combat as well).

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"visual range" means close enough to determine what the object is with camera's. It has nothing to do with windows. – Mast Jan 13 at 13:20

One important thing to remember in the specific case of the Enterprises: they aren't military vessels; they're roving science stations. So the logic behind their creation wouldn't inherently be that of a military tactician.

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The location of the bridge (and also the battle bridge) is also an interesting metaphor for Starfleet as a whole: the main bridge is out in the open, which is good for negotiations (it can show that you have nothing to hide, which could help make others more amicable), but the battle bridge is buried deep inside the ship, where it's less vulnerable to weapons fire. This is a reflection of Starfleet's stance on combat: while peaceful exploration is their main goal, they're ready for a fight if push comes to shove.

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