Living Spaceships

Organic technology tends to not be very well fleshed out (pun intended) when it shows up.  Usually you wind up with the equivalent of the Womb Level from video games, but for your scifi rpg.  Whales in space, and all.

So I figured I’d give my own take on what a living spaceship would look like.

Allow me to introduce to you the concept of Dyson Trees.

Dyson Trees aren’t like Dyson Spheres, which encapsulate an entire star in order to gather 100% of its energy, but rather simply are the concept of genetically-engineered plants that could grow on a comet, using the comet and ice for the water and raw materials.  I mention them because it brings to the front an important point.

A living ship doesn’t need to move much, aside from the engines.  And like most non-living spaceships nowadays, it would need a source of fuel, the most readily available one being the sun.

Leaving the exact method of propulsion out (since that’s one thing that scifi writers really seem to enjoy changing around anyway), a ship is for the most part a solid structure filled with pipes, wires, and the largest moving parts aside from the engines are usually just the doors.  As opposed to an animal, which is always in motion in one sense or another, even cycling blood through the body.

Given the need to harness energy, the most efficient available source being the sun, and a general lack of movement (especially since movement burns energy anyway) aside from the often-differentiated engines, plants seem the obvious choice for a living spaceship.

  • They pipe fluids similar to animals but with less energy spent doing so, moving water from ground level to the tops of the tallest trees.
  • They naturally absorb sunlight, and could be genetically engineered to absorb even more of the spectrum than most currently do, like the fungi who absorb radiation in Chernobyl.
  • The doors and other necessary parts may be animal-like if need be, but plants have also been shown to be capable of movement through such examples as the Venus Fly Trap.  Sure, the plants usually need more time to reset after each movement, but they could just be set for any emergency airtight seals.  The rest could be just normal doors.  No need to overcomplicate things.
  • With the animals living onboard (i.e. humans, and possibly pets) you could have the ship and its passengers literally form a mini-ecosystem, with the waste from one being able to be put to use by the other.
  • It simply feels better to walk around on wood than flesh.  (Though it probably wouldn’t even look like a tree at all, since the leaves would have no need to stick out.  More like a mossy wooden ball.)

However, that’s not to say there can’t be any animal-based parts at all.  If you’re building a living ship, you should have the technology required to manipulate cells to an incredible level already, and should logically thus be able to blend different aspects across kingdoms of life to suit your needs.

So a tree with a central nervous system isn’t entirely out of the question.  Or some symbiotic relationship between a custom-made plant and animal, each fulfilling basic functions within the ship as a whole.

background, beautiful, blossom

So, what about major objections to the idea of living spaceships?  I can think of several off the bat, and will address them in turn:

  • Not as tough or reliable as nonliving technology.  This objection counters the “self-repairing” aspect of living systems by pointing out that they’d be repairing damage nonliving systems likely wouldn’t have taken in the first place.
    • But that seems to ignore that there ARE living systems that don’t take as much damage as most others.  Ever try and shoot a 9 mil at a charging elephant?
    • Not to mention that the non-organic technology touted is usually already incredibly engineered.  Steel is the result of literal millenia of smelting technology, and it was sought out for toughness and resistance to damage.  Considering that there are forms of life that already incorporate small amounts of metal into their systems, it’s not too crazy to assume that a millenia or two of organic tech development would be able to create some form of metallic wood or shell.
    • Not to mention that there are already forms of life that can survive extremes quite easily, known as extremophiles.
  • A living ship can get sick.
    • In theory, yes, but a nonliving ship can catch a virus as well, and like the living ship both forms of infection usually have to be created with the specific object of attack in mind.  That’s why generations of people could hang around livestock without catching disease from them, our microscopic friends are usually extremely species-specific.  And if you’re using a plant, that becomes even more magnified.
    • Any civilization capable of genetically engineering a lifeform to the extent that it can comfortably carry itself and others into and through outerspace, would be capable of engineering a sufficient version of the oldest form of antivirus: the immune system.  Not to mention that we can regularly give our own immune system “updates” in the form of vaccines.  For something to be able to affect a system that was engineered to that extent, it would have to be engineered itself.
  • Vulnerable to mutagens, toxin, and most of all, old age.
    • What sensitive electronics aren’t?
    • Not to mention that there are plenty of complex organisms that don’t seem to age at all beyond maturity.  Once you understand those, it’d be simple to implement them in both the ship and those who rode within it.  But that’s for another day’s post.
  • You can’t just store living technology.  It has to be continually cared for.
    • Toads regularly freeze themselves to survive winter.  Tardigrades can dry themselves out and basically go dormant.  There are plants that have been revived from 32,000 year old seeds.  Sure, most living things need to be continually cared for, but most living things aren’t built to be able to store themselves.  For those that are, it’s clearly not out of the question.

Cactus Plants Under the Starry Sky

Okay, okay, I’ll stop the rant.

But my point is, if you’re going to make a living ship, feel free to think it out.  After all, that’s part of the fun!

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