Is it well established that Star Trek follows naval tradition. For example its ranks come from USN. Ships share names with real Earth vessels, etc.

I was surprised that the contingency speech on the death of the Apollo 11 astronauts contained

AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT, AT THE POINT WHEN NASA ENDS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE MEN: A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer.


So this led me to the question: This speech was from after Star Trek aired. So were there other established traditions for using naval terminology and procedures at NASA before Star Trek (1966)? Was there precedent in earlier space travel literature for the naval tradition? Where did Gene Roddenberry get this from?

  • 2
    Space is an Ocean . IRL I think there's a trend in today's military to unify rank structure across the several branches of the military. The main problem is that the navy is extremely tradition-oriented to a greater extent than the other branches.
    – Joe L.
    Feb 10 '15 at 15:48
  • 1
    @cde: Better now? Feb 10 '15 at 17:47
  • 2
    The same question was posted on space.stackexchange.com Feb 10 '15 at 22:30
  • 3
    I think the main reason why military SF in general, not just Star Trek falls back on Naval rules is that it is the closest parallel to ships in space. Aircraft fly home and pilots hang out in the bars at night. Sailors are off on their own for long periods of time which makes for better TV
    – Oldcat
    Feb 12 '15 at 0:36
  • 3
    @Oldcat: The interesting thing about this remark is that it explains why it makes sense that Stargate is run by the Air Force... Feb 12 '15 at 2:55

Astronaut (and cosmonaut) would be the best example. The decision to use a term that literally means space sailor, and taken from turn of the century science fiction should be enough.

Aside from that, the long standing history of established nautical terms and standards being used for aeronautical continued into the astronautical field. Other terms like starboard and port, lifeboat, taking the same names as established us military vessels, the U.S.S. prefix.

But mainly, it's because the Air Force, which grew out of the Army just twenty years before Star Trek, didn't lend itself to Rod's first ideas. Rod was a WWII bomber pilot, and a cop. He had first hand knowledge of it and could have written it that way if he wanted to. Nor did NASA, born 6 years prior to Star Trek airing.

Not only does the proposal mention various civilian naval terms like skipper, but:

According to Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Roddenberry’s original idea for the organization of the USS Enterprise was that the ship would be based on a merchant marine type organization with a Captain and various mates overseeing a large crew. In the pilot episode The Cage, the only ranks spoken of were Captain, Lieutenant, Chief and Crewman. All officers wore a single rank stripe and, according to Roddenberry, everyone aboard the Enterprise was a qualified astronaut making rank titles a formality since all crewmembers basically had the same type of training.


  • Did the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo programs use any names from naval vessels or the U.S.S. prefix, or is this something that started happening with the shuttle program?
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 10 '15 at 19:41
  • 4
    "We are ready now. Our fleets will sail out, in your own ships, to smash the combined space navies of the solar system."--"Pirates of the Gorm" by Nat Schachner in the May 1932 Astounding Stories.
    – user14111
    Feb 10 '15 at 22:20
  • 1
    @Hypnosifl: Several of the Apollo command and lunar modules, starting with Apollo 12's Yankee Clipper and Intrepid, were named after naval vessels.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. The Mercury and Gemini capsules don't appear to have been named separately from their mission names. Feb 11 '15 at 0:08
  • @Hypnosifl - before the shuttles, the mission had a name and the parts had a name, but it wasn't important because the craft were disposed of during and after the mission. Only with the shuttles did the craft span multiple missions.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 12 '15 at 0:38
  • 1
    @Keith Mercury capsules and the first Gemini spacecraft were also named, by their crews (e.g. Friendship 7, Molly Brown). After Gemini 3's capsule name was making fun of NASA, astronauts stopped being allowed to name their capsules, until Apollo 9 had 2 craft so NASA gave in for callsign purposes ("Apollo 9" wouldn't work as callsign)
    – cpast
    Feb 16 '15 at 0:27

The SF standard of space forces being considered akin to naval forces and using similar terminology long predates Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry.

Triplanetary (1934, E.E. Smith, Amazing Stories)

"Now that they know what to look for and know that ether-wave detectors are useless, they can find it. Every vessel in seven sectors, clear down to the scout patrols, is concentrating on this point, and the call is out for all battleships and cruisers afloat. There are enough operatives out there with ultra-waves to locate that globe, and once they spot it they'll point it out to all the other vessels."


Projector at the ready, the Officer of the Day followed Cleve into the Holy of Holies. There the grizzled four-striper touched the golden meteor lightly, then drove his piercing gaze deep into the unflinching eyes of the younger man.


"Commanders of all vessels of the Fleet!" The Headquarters speaker, receiver sealed upon the wave-length of the Admiral of the Fleet, broke the long silence. "All vessels, in sectors L to R, inclusive, will interlock location signals. Some of you have received, or will receive shortly, certain communications from sources which need not be mentioned. Those commanders will at once send out red K4 screens. Vessels so marked will act as temporary flagships. Unmarked vessels will proceed at maximum to the nearest flagship, grouping about it in regulation squadron cone in order of arrival. Squadrons most distant from objective point designated by flagship observers will proceed toward it at maximum; squadrons nearest it will decelerate or reverse velocity--that point must not be approached until full Fleet formation has been accomplished. Heavy and Light Cruisers of all other sectors inside the orbit of Mars ..." the orders went on, directing the mobilization of the stupendous forces of the League, so that they would be in readiness in the highly improbable event of the failure of the massed power of seven sectors to reduce the pirate base.


Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was in the Navy. Hence the series adopted the majority of it's lexicon from the Navy. In particular...

  • Ship classification: Cruiser, Destroyer, Frigate
  • Nautical terms...in space: Port, Starboard, Deck, Bulkhead, heading
  • Naval Rank: Captain, Lieutenant, Ensign
  • Weaponry: Cannons, turrets, torpedo
  • Famous ship names: Enterprise, Lexington

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.