So I was watching Babylon 5 again (I’m still saddened by the loss of Jerry Doyle), when I noticed an interesting line “Their gunports are open.” I can’t remember which alien craft they were referring to, most likely Centauri, but the idea is fascinating. Gunports are for a specific purpose on ships at sea. The doors are necessary to keep the ship watertight. Since gun decks are below the main deck of the ship, they are naturally closer to the waterline. Sometimes there are two gundecks, which would allow for a lot of water to get into the ship, presenting a danger of sinking, or at least slowing the ship greatly due to the increased weight.
The ports also keep water out of the guns themselves, which would be a bad thing as, one, the cannons are iron, and two, they rely on combustion within to propel a cannonball. A pocket of water inside the canon would flash to steam, which might cause the cannon to explode as it expands, though more likely, the cannon wouldn’t fire because black powder doesn’t like to be wet.
Neither of these conditions apply in space, so I thought it was a silly idea to be included. After all, there’s no danger of water getting into a ship in space, and most weapons in space would use an internal airlock system if it used munitions. Energy weapons would be free of such restrictions, though, and could just be out all the time.
But then I started thinking about it a little more. In my own sci fi book series, my main character’s ship has retractable turrets. This is not for surprise purposes, but to make the ship more stellardynamic—it’s a word in my book—keeping the ship’s speed up. But another consideration is that of cosmic dust. Even small atoms pack quite a wallop at speed, and we are talking about astronomical speeds and distances here, so perhaps gunports would be necessary to protect the weapons from these atoms. Not only that, there’s radiation to consider. While atoms may be rare, radiation is everywhere. High energy gamma rays probably would not react well to sensitive hardware such as might be found in a particle cannon or other direct energy weapon.
Even within our own solar system, there is plenty of radiation and magnetic fields to screw with systems on space stations and probes. The ISS crew must take refuge in special compartments during solar flares, and the Juno probe had to have a special vault to preserve its electronics from Jupiter’s intense magnetic fields.
So maybe gunports in space are not a bad idea. Maybe this was a detail that J. Michael Stracynzski put a lot of thought into before adding it to the show.
Or it might have just sounded cool.
Either way, they at least deserve consideration in a space opera setting.