Mondoshawan piloting


The Mondoshawan pilot grasps two handles. Each handle moves in a transverse plane (parallel to the floor), being attached to a base by two flat hinges. We only see this interface for a few seconds, but it seems very poorly mapped.

Here on Earth, a pilot primarily needs to specify pitch, roll, and thrust. She supplies this input through a control yoke and a throttle. Each action is clearly differentiated. Pitch is specified by pushing or pulling the yoke. Roll is specified by rolling the yoke like a steering wheel. Thrust is specified by pushing or pulling the throttle. It’s really rare that a pilot wanting to lift the plane will accidentally turn the yoke to the right.

But look at the Mondoshawan inputs. They can specify four basic variables, i.e., an X and a Z for each hand. Try as I might, I can’t elegantly make that fit the act of flying well. (Pipe up if I’m not seeing something obvious.) Even if roll, pitch, and thrust was each assigned to an axis arbitrarily, the pilot would end up having to use the same motion on different hands for different variables, and there would be one “extra” axis. Of course there are two other Mondoshawans visible in the ship, and perhaps between them they’re managing that third axis of control somehow. With training and their “200,000 DNA memo groups,” the Mondoshawans could probably manage it, but it would spell trouble for us poor humans with our measly 40 and need for more direct mapping and control differentiation.


12 thoughts on “Mondoshawan piloting

  1. My best guess is that the two control yokes are mapped to the movement for separate banks of thrusters, with (unshown) controls at the Pilot’s feet for similar control of the thrusters’ output. The two available axis of control would be mapped to the two axis of movement around a sphere, essentially mapping a joystick into a flat plane.

    The two control arms would be best mapped to one thruster cluster each, on separate sides of the ship. Ideally, the left arm would control the thruster directionality on the left side of the ship, and the right arm would control thruster directionality on the right side of the ship.

    ‘Pushing’ the control yoke forward would result in that thruster bank shifting its direction of thrust forward.
    ‘Pulling’ the control yoke back would shift the direction towards the rear (a ship’s typical direction of thrust).
    Shifting the yoke side-to-side would rotate the thruster bank ‘up’ or ‘down’ relative to the ship.

    This way, the pilot would be directly controlling the ship’s entire thrust in all possible directions, and mean that the ship was built to use its entire thrust rating in any possible direction (handy if the pilot ever gets into an actual space fight). Having the two sides of the ship be separate would also allow for very high thrust avoidance maneuvers.

    Pedals at the pilot’s feet would then allow him or her to precisely control each bank of thrusters output. Movies have a tendency to leave out the foot pedals, even in situations where they’re very important now (like aircraft), so I think it would be a valid assumption to believe they exist here as well.

    While the above setup would probably work with a lot of training and a more advanced brain than a humans, I do think it could be improved by allowing free motion of the hand controls. Then, keeping the same concept of mapping each side of the ship to a single hand, the pilot would be able to ‘point’ in the direction they wanted to fly or maneuver. This would be a far more natural control mechanism for humans anyways, and is something we are already used to in a swimming context.

    It’s possible that, because of the bulky and unwieldy flight suits that the flight crew wear, this free-motion control has been tried before and failed because the pilots lacked the necessary dexterity.

    From a flight sense, it’s interesting that the ‘point to go’ instinct is reversed when using an aircraft’s joystick, and relies more on pulling the parts of the aircraft you want to move. That might be a good alternative scheme, where you point your control arms in the direction you want thrust to be sent by the ship, instead of pointing where you want to go.

    • Heck. Yes. Great analysis, Clayton. One thing I didn’t show, though, is that the thrusters appear fixed. (I’ll post an animated gif to show.) How would that change your proposed design?

  2. A spacecraft needs a minimum of 6 axes ( pitch, roll, yaw and translate x, y, z), plus throttles and trim.

    Here’s a outline of the shuttle controls, and a photo of the cockput and rear cabin controls. The pilot controls all three rotation axes with the yoke, and the three translation axes with the digital joystick to the left. He also has a throttle, trim wheels for the control surfaces, and rudder control through the floor pedals.

    • Great technique of using real world analogs as part of the design research! I understand that sci-fi interface designers are getting less and less time for this kind of real world research, sadly.

    • Phil,
      After looking through the workbook (great find! I hope more of those kind of documents start coming out for the new Orion capsule) I noticed that NASA has been using that control scheme since the start (if the Movie Apollo 13 is to be believed in such a small detail, but I’ve heard from a couple sources that they were very thorough on their research):

      Considering that NASA’s first users were Air Force pilots, it seems obvious that they would keep the rotational stick bound to the right side of the pilot, and introduce the new control on their ‘off’ hand; but I wonder if that was such an obvious choice at the time.

      If we ever start building piloted ships that will require thrust modification mid-flight (such as ion-powered rockets bound for Mars or the L2 point), I wonder how the ship builders will add in the controls. Add in another control such as a throttle? Require a second person to control the motors? Take out manual control completely and go to a pre-programmed acceleration pattern?

      The other possibility here for the Mondoshawans is that they’ve intentionally included three pilots, and that each pilot only has two controls available. If that were the case, they would have to know exactly what each other were doing at all times to make it work. Maybe it’s viewed as some deep team-building excercise.

      • It could be that all three are collaboratively contributing a sense of priority for the ship’s computer to then balance. (Like the gunners in The Mjolnir.) (Or was it the Nebuchadnezzar?) But that just raises the questions of the controls again, but in triplicate.

        Also, I dig the notion of mapping each X/Y to a thruster bank, but looking at the examples from the movie where we see the thrusters, they seem fixed in place. Also the ship doesn’t appear to make any maneuvers when attacked by Mangalores, so there’s diegetic evidence against that being this reverse-engineered solution, even if it’s a good one.

      • Well, an ion drive only produces a minuscule amount of thrust and is most efficient , so I imagine any manual controls, would be more akin to setting a calendar alert on your smart phone, than aircraft throttle controls.

        As for the mondoshawan’s I was actually thinking that myself, though it looks like the other two have panels rather than yokes.

        Just had a thought, fighters since the F16 have used pressure sensitive flight sticks that don’t move at all. If they were using something like that, it would add at least two axes per hand. You could also have a twist, but their wrists don’t look very mobile to me.

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