When they're not on a deck they do not like things quiet
They'll turn first a glass then a whole tavern over
Get thrown in the lockup, confined to the field,
And then, in a rush of filled forms and paid prices,
They exit, all quickly, with nothing to say
In most Space Opera settings space travel is commonplace and routine, but in some settings there are people who spend almost their entire lives in space. These people were born and raised on a starship or space station and can't imagine living on a planet or natural satellite. Often they act as traders, with an extended family owning and operating a ship. Recently, with knowledge of the ill effects of extended periods in space, Spacers are increasingly portrayed as a genetically engineered subspecies that does not experience muscular and skeletal degeneration from zero-gravity, is immune to radiation, has prehensile toes, and so on. In softer settings, however, they may still be portrayed as normal humans who happen to live in space, perhaps thanks to Artificial Gravity. Even if they may be Transhuman, their main reason for living in space is usually cultural: they consider it their own place. Even if they visit planets occasionally, they do not feel particularly attached to them, and may even consider them unpleasant.
If a Fantasy Counterpart Culture, they may be comparable to Romani or other nomadic Earth-cultures. They often makes excellent engineers and pilots. They usually won't have any government beyond clan elders.
Compare Generation Ship, where multiple generations are born and live out their entire lives on board a slow-moving ship headed for a distant planet.
Space Nomads are a common subtrope.
- The Abh of Crest of the Stars are a genetically engineered race, with key modifications being a third eye to better navigate in three dimensions and the ability to withstand high acceleration and microgravity.
- Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: the Galactic Alliance of Humanity wants to find a planet to live on, but none if habitable; thus everyone lives in ships, with a space station called Avalon serving as the capital and some Space Nomads who are not yet under the government's control. However, most of the series is set on Earth, which the protagonist accidentally rediscovers in the first episode.
- In Serenity Kaylee refers to their ship as their home. They don't really seem to have another.
- Mal really doesn't anymore. His homeworld was Shadow, a Independent stronghold, which suffered such intense Orbital Bombardment from the Alliance during the Unification War, the entire planet was left a "black rock" afterwards.
- Similarly, Zoe was born on a ship, not dirtside. She literally has no homeworld.
- In Titan A.E. the entire human race ends up as this. Some people, such as Cale, live as second class citizens on space stations and (presumably) planets, but the Drifter colonies adhere closely to this trope and even lash ships together for more living space.
- Battle Beyond the Stars. Gelt says he doesn't have a homeworld — he was born in space, which is appropriate for a cold-blooded killer, but also reflects his need to live on a planet where no-one is going to shoot him in revenge for his past deeds.
- C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe has humanity divided culturally into planet-siders, stationers, and spacers. Spacers are usually organized into merchant clans owning one or more ships. They also have one-night stands in ports to prevent inbreeding.
- Larry Niven's novels The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring feature the descendants of stranded astronauts who live in a cloud surrounding a star. They are extremely tall (around 3m) and slim and have elongated toes, as well as a high infant mortality rate due to the lack of gravity.
- There are a number of these in the Vorkosigan Saga
- Elli Quinn, who was born on a space station, regards actual planets as dirty and uninviting.
- An entire Human Subspecies known as "Quaddies", who were genetically engineered with an extra set of hands where their legs would normally be and with a number of other genetic modifications to make them capable of surviving indefinitely in microgravity or freefall, are kind of an enforced example. They're also a former Slave Race rendered surplus to requirements by the invention of Artificial Gravity and were forced to flee Earth.
- In Isaac Asimov's novella The Martian Way men who make a living from salvaging space junk live mostly in space. Despite having gravity on the spacecraft they still suffer from ill-effects from living in space, such as being scrawny and being exposed to too much U.V radiation.
- The "Free Traders" in the Robert A. Heinlein juvenile Citizen of the Galaxy live in nomadic clans whose homes are their starships. They are noted for being somewhat disdainful of planet-dwellers, whom they sometimes refer to as "fraki".
- Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future: the Vacuumorphs, exoskeletal Humans that are used as living space scouting probes that have all of their vulnerable parts sealed up so they can survive the natural elements of outer space without the need of a ship. And its never mentioned that anyone from Earth retrieves them. In other words Vacuumorphs are cursed to stay in high orbit without any way of directly seeing or communicating with the outside universe (except through their surgically attached planetary surveying equipment) and are (presumably) forced to consume nothing but their own recycled natural waste until finally accidentally falling towards and burning up in a random planet's atmosphere. They cannot even travel through space- it is stated that are high-orbit space ship engineers only. Their bodies cannot operate or even survive in gravity at all - and that includes the artificial gravity of an accelerating space ship. They're stuck in near-Earth space.
- Many of the Ultranauts in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space Series have never set foot on anything that isn't man-made. They're a loose and decentralised faction of humanity that are part this trope, and part Loveable Rogue antiheroes (or, sometimes outright antivillains or villains). Though small in their total population, Ultranauts are a very disparate group of people, ranging from normal humans to cyborgs, and from wanderers or traders to the equivalent of space pirates.
- The Formic Wars novels have clans of Asteroid Miners competing with corporate ships. Many of them have lived in microgravity so long they couldn't stand on Earth or even Mars.
- Luckily, Victor arrives to Luna (i.e. the Moon), where gravity is even lower than on Mars. He does spend a considerable amount of time prior to his trip exercising his leg muscles, but he is then forced to spend several months in a tiny cockpit without much chance to move around.
- In Mikhail Akhmanov and Christopher Gilmore's Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, the titular character and other space traders like him spend most of the time aboard their ships. In fact, laws hard-wired into all ship computers is that, if a space trader spends more than a year on any single world without traveling elsewhere, his ship becomes fair game for anyone wishing to take his place. There are also people living in zero-g (or very low-g) space habitats. When French shows the picture of one to his wife, the person looks barely human.
- The titular captain explains that when he became a space trader (the first of his kind), he quickly realized that someone like that can't ever be truly wealthy (i.e. have tons of money in banks, own companies, live in castles, etc.) due to the nature of interstellar travel. Since traveling between stars takes at least decades from the viewpoint of anyone planetbound (while only a split-second for the traveler), it wouldn't make sense to trust the locals of any planet to remain stable for this period of time. After all, economies can crash, banks can go out of business, and property can be seized by a corrupt and/or dictatorial government. Thus, a space trader must subscribe to the old adage "Omnia mea mecum porto" ("I carry my things with me") and keep all his/her property aboard the ship.
- The Lo'ona Aeo in Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark series are a race of Space Elves who have voluntarily left their homeworld and colonies to live aboard large artificial orbital habitats called "astroids" (not a typo). Some of those worlds (namely, those in the border regions) are given to their Defenders as part of the payment for their services. The core worlds are kept as preserves and museums. Being extremely xenophobic (but also a race of Technical Pacifists), they never directly interact with members of other races, preferring to deal with them through their genetically-engineered Servant Race called Servs. Each Lo'ona Aeo clan typically has its own astroid, the climate of which can be adjusted to any preference. Population Control is in place to prevent inbreeding and to keep "undesirable" genetic lines from propagating.
- Ousters from Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos have been living in space for so long that they are no longer able to survive on Earth-like planets without supportive equipment, mainly to move around in 1 g gravity.
- The main characters from Angel Station hail from a space-dwelling culture which considers planets dirtballs - hostile, filthy and depressing. Honestly, what else could be said of a place at the very bottom of a deep gravity well?
- Close to three-fifths of the population of the Eldraeverse are spacers, and most of them are modified in various ways to be better at space-dwelling.
- The Remoras of the Great Ship series reside on the exterior hull of the Greatship, and are descended from a human Captain who was Reassigned to Antarctica on the hull to repair damage from meteorite impacts. Their bodies have been twisted by the hard radiation impacting it, but rather than cure it they actively cultivate the mutations and cherish them, while their Trans Human Healing Factor keeps them alive. Remoras are born in Uterine Replicators that become the spacesuit that they live their entire lives in; to ask a Remora to take off their suit is the most offensive thing one can say, and probably outright impossible without a fusion torch.
- In The Pride of Parahumans the titular Parahumans are transgenic constructs designed for life in space. Their bones are a titanium alloy that doesn't suffer osteoporosis, their skin is toughened against vacuum, and their blood and muscles retain more oxygen than natural marine mammals.
- In The Night's Dawn Trilogy, the Edenists reside in sapient bitek space stations orbiting gas giants, which harvest gases and refine it into fusion reactor fuel. The Adamists, which makes up most of the human population and lacks the Edenists' Affinity Gene, often build outposts on asteroids and other smaller objects, and live there. Cosmoniks are the logical conclusion of Adamist space people; their bodies have atrophied from microgravity to the point where they are more robotic than flesh; many cosmoniks are so augmented that they can survive for days - or effectively indefinitely - in vacuum with nothing more than an oxygen bottle.
- In Alien in a Small Town, the Arachne are an entire alien race of these. Earth's allies the Jan assure us we need not fear an invasion from the Arachne, because the Arachne don't want planetary real estate anyway. They prefer low and zero-G environments. They're all cyborgs who change their bodies as need be, favoring insect and spider-like shapes to move more easily in gravity-free environments.
- In the Boojumverse Christian cultists, Arkhamers and gillies are mentioned, though not explained in detail. They're the subject of prejudice and distrust, and they're implied to have been driven off Earth as a result of religious or government persecution, taking on roles that enable them to be useful and therefore tolerated. Christians have modified their bodies to be capable of working in space — in "Mongoose", Izrael passes one in a corridor who has replaced her arms with four sucker-tipped tentacles. Arkhamers are practitioners of Mad Science — the Cheshires they breed are used to hunt extra-dimensional predators. 'Gillies' are Fish People; good for extreme environments but subject to Fantastic Racism.
- In Lucifer's Star by C.T. Phipps, people who live predominately in Space are called "Spacers." They are implied to live generationally on ships and have a Free-Love Future attitude to sex as well as relationships often becoming group based. They're also people who tend to get cheap but egfective genetic enhancements to permanently make zero-g space travel better for their bones.
- In Animorphs, mention is made of a species called the Ongachic, who abandoned their homeworld long ago for unstated reasons. They seem to be Space Nomads, with a group attacked by the Yeerks working as minstrels.
- The Ketrans become this after their planet, Ket, is attacked by the Capasins. They actually want to find a new planet, but are holding out for one with the very specific, unlikely atmospheric conditions of their home world, where everyone lived on giant crystals floating in the sky.
- The Belters of The Expanse are this. Given that it is a much harder sci-fi than the rest, they are Lightworlders even with bone-growth increasing medicine.
- Stargate Atlantis has the Travelers, who fled the Wraith in a fleet of starships centuries ago and now wander the stars, keeping one step ahead from the Wraith. They did try to start a colony on a planet late in the series though, but unfortunately due to the Attero device being reactivated, their Stargate ended up going critical and also destroying their largest ship.
- Part of Travis Mayweather's backstory in Star Trek: Enterprise is that he comes from such a family, and thus has a lot more experience in space than most of the crew. Naturally, his family (when they show up) fit as well.
- One of the reasons is because those 22nd century freighters could only safely cruise at warp 1.5, about 4-5 times the speed of light. This means that even the trip to a nearby star would take many months, if not years. When warp 3 drives become more available, freighter captains begin to upgrade.
- GURPS Transhuman Space has the libertarian Duncanites, who invented a parahuman template for life in microgravity. As well as a number of groups that live around the Lagrange points in oftentimes poorly maintained habitats.
- In Eclipse Phase the majority of transhumanity lives in space habitats following The Fall (though there are significant populations on Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn). In addition one faction, the Scum, live on converted colony ships.
- In Traveller there are a number of people like this including one human minor race. Free Traders are implied to often live like this. And while not the same thing there are a large number of people who while living on planet have more connection to interstellar life then their homeworld.
- Traveller assumes Artificial Gravity and other high-tech perks. The chief annoyance would be the crowding and the closed space; a Traveller starship would be no more uncomfortable then a ship on the ocean.
- BattleTech: Most of Clan Sea Fox reside in "arcships" converted from warships and mercantile jumpships. Especially following their forced migration to the Inner Sphere.
- Warhammer 40,000 features several examples:
- The Tau Air Caste is an entire caste of space pilots, whose bodies have adapted to living outside of planetary gravity.
- The Eldar are remnants of their fallen empire, and most of them reside in massive Craftworlds, moon-sized spaceships which hold millions of Eldar.
- Spaceship-centric supplements such as Battlefleet Gothic or Rogue Trader explain that "voidborn" are common in the Imperium, due to the massive crews of Imperial vessels and the centuries, if not millennia, they spend in service. This results in bloodlines that have served aboard a specific ship for generations, as well as the occasional feral tribe forming on seldom-used or forgotten decks, the inbred, cannibalistic descendants of people who got lost or even built the ship.
- And for that reason, most Imperial ships nerve-gas all compartments every century or several.
- In Mass Effect, this is one of Shepard's possible backgrounds. A Spacer Shepard's parents were both in the Alliance Navy, meaning s/he was raised onboard starships for most of their life.
- It's implied that this is actually common among Alliance personnel, with Joker mentioning that he was born and raised aboard Arcturus Station, headquarters of the Alliance Parliament, while defied with Ashley's family, whose father intentionally transferred to a planetary colony because he didn't want their childhood to be spent cramped aboard starships and without a proper home.
- There are also the Quarians who live entirely in space, the Migrant Fleet having fled their homeworld centuries previously after a Robot War nearly wiped them out. Living in a sterile environment, lead to their already weak immune systems atrophying, meaning they are now forced to wear isolation suits even on their own ships, as a result.
- Male Morrigi in Sword of the Stars spend their entire lives after the age of three in space, only "descending" upon a planet to trade or mate. Probably accounts partially for the size difference between males and the planet-bound females.
- In UFO Aftershock, you start on a giant space station called Laputa (no, not that one) that orbits the Earth. Its inhabitants have been living on the station long enough to even forget where they came from.
- The Nylli of Star Ruler 2 do not utilize planetary surfaces at all unlike the other races, instead residing in orbital habitats which mine the surface. Their population only grows on vast Motherships, which build the habitats and function as Mobile Factories,building all of the race's ships til orbital shipyards can be constructed. In the original game, players typically evolved their empires into almost entirely space-bound civilizations, with only research and shipping taking place on planets.
- The Exiles, particularly Humans and Granoks, from WildStar are born and raised aboard a fleet of starships after being driven off by the Dominion. As a result, the populace rarely experienced ailments and mental disorder from long periods of time in space.
- The Gatekeepers of Schlock Mercenary are aliens who have, as a result of 100,000 years of genetic engineering, more limbs than can be easily counted and the ability to survive vacuum for short periods.
- In Freefall Winston Thurmad has spacer genes (Gene mods mostly consisting of anti-atrophy measures and an inability to grow hair) and his parents live in an asteroid, but he himself hasn't been in space since the colony ship from home.
- In Crimson Dark, about one in ten children raised in space will develop Spacer Syndrome, which is basically an inability to tolerate natural gravity. It causes symptoms similar to extreme motion sickness for the entire time that they're on the surface. Most people who live on space stations will make a concerted effort to keep their kids planetside for their first few years, in order to avoid this.
- Orion's Arm has Space Adapted People, Vacuum Adapted People (for short periods), and Sailors of the Ebon Seas.
- Void Dogs has "space gypsies" as well as a parahuman whose feet are more like hands.
- While Chakona Space's most well known race of near-perfect, genetically engineered hermaphrodite centaurs prefer terrestrial environments there are also Starwalker Stellar foxtaurs that are designed to withstand microgravity and survive vacuum for about an hour.