In this question about manned spaceships versus drones, a user (perhaps jokingly) pointed out that "manned" wouldn't technically be correct when talking about an extraterrestrial spacecraft:

By definition, they wouldn't be 'manned', but they might be 'aliened'.

Potential jokes aside, is there a more species-neutral adjective we can use here?

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    Related: Word for requiring a crew
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:38
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    When looking at news stories, the first story to show up in ABC television networks list of "manned space flight" is about the successful return of a monkey. abcnews.go.com/topics/news/science/manned-space-flight.htm Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:33
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    When I saw the title, I thought the complaint would be that women are left out.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:22
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    @JosephRogers definitely true of "manual" (as in manual labour, manual operation). I always laugh at the ignorance of those who insist that the word "manual" be replaced with a "gender-neutral term".
    – nigel222
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 13:00
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    This question is possibly related. Some people consider "manned" as gender-neutral, you could also possibly treat it as species-neutral (this is debated in comments to that question, not everyone agrees). Alternatively, some of its answers might also be suitable for your question.
    – Bruno
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 17:47

5 Answers 5


Consider crewed, which means:

Provide (a craft or vehicle) with a group of people to operate it:

'normally the boat is crewed by 5 people'.

It works perfectly in a sci-fi context. For example,

The ship was crewed primarily by Vulcans and cyborgs.

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    Note that NASA only uses crewed, never manned. Bonus: it's unambiguously gender-neutral.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 9:54
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    "Bonus: it's unambiguously gender-neutral" Indeed, we have little knowledge about alien genders Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 12:54
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    @gerrit Wait.... The obvious interpretation of this is that, NASA secretly is employing aliens, and NASA doesn't want to offend them.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:42
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    @Silenus You should be careful saying things like that! It is for whom are you working. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 17:55
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    "The ship was crewed primarily by Vulcans and cyborgs." -> clicks link -> "crew: 2.2 informal, chiefly US, A group of rappers, breakdancers,". Yes, this. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:30

Piloted would seem to fit nicely, although it does have to connotation of having a pilot rather than just a passenger.

Staffed could also work if you didn't want to talk about a specific pilot rôle.

Operated would also take out the species element of the word, focusing on the job.

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    I feel Operated does not necessarily imply any sentience on the craft itself; a drone is operated. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 7:26
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    Indeed - something can be operated remotely, eg from a control centre on Earth. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 10:54
  • Off-topic: I haven't seen "rôle" written with a circumflex for years! Cool Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 16:39
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    @PaddyLandau, that's one of he delights of EL&U, you find all sorts of sad grammar nerds who like to use those sorts of things. I felt that since the circumflex is tailing out in France, I'd better keep it alive in English. #JeSuisCirconflexe Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 14:24
  • Piloting and operating both sound like things that could happen remotely, or by smart/well-programmed machines. Though staffed does sound like it would imply a staff with which the staffing was accomplished. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 17:06

Occupied would do the job:

One of the meanings of occupied is:

Being used by someone; with someone in it.

Cambridge Dictionary

The craft was occupied.

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    This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:15
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    @P.O. It does attempt to provide an answer - I don't believe it is a comment at all. Pedro is saying that he thinks the a suitable word is "occupied". Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:47
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    the comment is pre-written when you flag and answer, it'S for the second part that I chose this flag "provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker." An answer without sources, references and/or links are incomplete, hence requires clarification. Add it and I'll upvote your answer.
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:56
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    @P.O. Just FYI, you can actually edit the pre-written comment soon after its posted. :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:16
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    "Occupied" makes it sound like a hostile takeover (e.g. a foreign army occupying a country; the 'occupy Wallstreet' movement taking over ordinary road use'). If the text said "the ship was occupied by Klingons" I would assume the Klingons had taken it by force. It does work as a word to convey that there are lifeforms in the ship, but it carries some other meanings that make me think it's not a good fit for an alternative to the word 'manned'. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:28


What are commonly called 'drones' are sometimes called 'uninhabited air vehicles' as unmanned also means 'cowardly' so is not a selling point for combat aircraft; the inverse of this would be inhabited.

Most UAVs are piloted remotely or autonomously, so 'piloted' does not imply inhabited - the Reaper is piloted, the V1 was not, neither was inhabited. Similarly, in military speech, UAVs also have a crew - if you are the remote pilot or weapons control for a UAV you are still considered its air crew, and every UAV also has a ground crew:

The primary concept of operations, remote split operations, employs a launch-and-recovery ground control station for take-off and landing operations at the forward operating location, while the crew based in continental United States executes command and control of the remainder of the mission via beyond-line-of-sight links. USAF MQ-9 Reaper fact sheet

  • Nice idea, but your reference to UAV seems misguided: a quick google suggests that it most commonly is used as an initialisation of unmanned air vehicle
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 9:58
  • @AndyT yes, that's why I said 'sometimes' and linked a google search showing plenty of uses. Even this google.co.uk/patents/US20080027647 uses unmanned rather than uninhabited :) Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:18

In order to properly leave anthropocentrism behind, you have to think outside of the...ugly bags of mostly water. Otherwise you are making assumptions that are echoes of that anthropocentrism.

The Greebbllaapp vessel originally consisted of several semi-sentient modules that wandered desultorily around the galaxy extracting iridium, but its frighteningly malign intelligence did not fully emerge until the assembly became infested with quintillions of mutated nanomachines.

Whether or not the greebllaapp can be considered 'living species' or not is debatable...But if you must talk about a 'major interstellar war' going on between biologicals, then one of the combatants might well say their enemy's ships are 'infested'.

  • These are words for drones?
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 5:53
  • Aren't they, though?
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 10:03
  • Yeah, but the questions doesn't mention drones, it's talking about living "species".
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 10:05
  • Aren't they, though? Seriously, I'm not convinced your parameters make sense. Look up the phrase 'Calling a rabbit a smeerp'.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 10:33
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    I don't think "infested" is a suitable word as a non-human substitute for "manned". "infested" does not bring with it the sense that the infestation is the original crew - in fact, it implies occupation by an infestation that is unwelcome and not the original purpose of the vessel. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:51

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