Science: Spacecraft
A Spaceship with Integral Tree Component   (+6, -2)  [vote for, against]
Central Processing Unit

Spaceships are pretty simple - they have a thrust component to get you from A to B. Easy.

The hard part is keeping a team of people alive for long periods of time in unnatural surroundings. For especially long voyages, this requirement becomes more and more important. You need systems to reprocess the air, manage waste, keep temperature and humidity at constant levels. And for each system you need technicians, spare parts, oil, glue etc.

Consider the Oak.

Its leaves naturally convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, its roots draw up nasty, dirty water and release it into the air through its leaves. Solid organic waste products are also reprocessed and their noxious elements neutralised.

It makes perfect sense then to build a spacecraft around a tree, with the roots at one end dealing with the waste produce, and the branches at the other, doing all the atmospheric stuff. The trunk provides a neat segway between the two processing units and provides and area around which all of the other spaceship systems can be located. If the tree were suitably large (and in space, with no gravitation to worry about, it could be coaxed into growing to monstrous proportions) you could hollow-out the trunk and live inside.

You'd need a nice big transparent dome around the leafy area to allow sunlight in (or you could use appropriately bright lamps on interstellar voyages) and a great big dome around the root-ball into which you'd pump your unpleasantnesses.

The result, a cheap, efficient, integral life-support unit, and what's more, it's a blimming tree, in space!
-- zen_tom, Sep 13 2010

Tree numbers http://forestmanage...zing_tree_facts.htm
Bad news. [MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 13 2010]

Larry niven's take on it. http://www.fantasti.../integral-trees.htm
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Sep 13 2010]

[pocmloc, Sep 13 2010]

Dan Simmon's Hyperion http://en.wikipedia...ion_(Simmons_novel)
[theircompetitor, Sep 13 2010]

Consider the Oak -- or perhaps the Baobab http://www.littlebl...-prince-baobabs.jpg
[mouseposture, Sep 13 2010]

The Fountain http://languages.ob...11/19/the-fountain/
This 2006 movie has a nice spherical spaceship (distorted on web page) with a tree dominating it. [Vernon, Sep 14 2010]

Has no thought been given to the idea of building the spaceship inside a tree?
-- calum, Sep 13 2010

I prefer to have my spaceship lines with Bonsai Wallpaper™ - millions of tiny trees, with their root systems embedded in the walls and their soft green foliage facing outwards and providing a nice cushioned surface.
-- hippo, Sep 13 2010

You did do the numbers on this, of course, didn't you? I mean, the basic and elementary ones?

I only ask because, according to the link (link), you need about 18 mature trees (species not specified) to make enough oxygen for one person.

If this were indeed the case, this would make your idea really stupid. However, since I'm sure you spend at least a few moments checking your facts, this cannot surely be the case.
-- MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 13 2010

Factwise, I have to admit that we're still in the conceptual phase at the moment - but let's assume that one of the traditional trees you're referencing is bound by earthly concepts of night and day, gravity and prevailing atmospheric conditions. In this instance, all of those things are a great deal more fluid, and it may be possible to tempt a tree to grow much larger, providing more oxygen, and processing more waste material than its terrestrial brethren.

Much of the inspiration of this notion came from [Vernon]'s VAT Wood idea - where vat-grown wood provides us with a bit more plasticity in terms of what a 'tree' in this context might actually mean.

Furthermore, trees are selected in the wild for being good trees - we might be able to artificially select for oxygen production and breed a range of spacefaring trees providing us with the properties around which we can construct our spacefleets.

Evenfurthermore, facts aside, it seems to me that it would be especially cool to have flying trees foraging throughout the universe under our guidance. There's no evidence with with I can actually back up that assertion, nevertheless it would undoubtably be awesome.

[calum] and [hippo] provide alternative configurations - and I'm open to any way to make the general concept of space-trees more feasable.
-- zen_tom, Sep 13 2010

An idea for middle grade SF. The appropriate astronauts would be squirrels.
-- ldischler, Sep 13 2010

If the tree grew large enough it's gravity could hold a bit of an atmosphere.

This reminds me of 'The Integral Trees'. [link]
-- 2 fries shy of a happy meal, Sep 13 2010

Because if you simply take a massive, gnarly old growth oak and carve a man-sized hollow into which you insert your arbornaut before bashing the whole lot up into space, you'll reap a large number of benefits, not limited to: appeasement of the green lobby through lower smelting costs; lower required oxygen production due to close proximity of arbornaut to tree; pleasing real-wood smell for your crew which can only result in better chi flow. I mean, I could go on.
-- calum, Sep 13 2010

Maybe I do not have tongue enough in cheek, and I like "Silent Running" as much as the next geek, but I think one might more efficiently generate oxygen with single celled aquatic plants, using a transparent plastic substrate.

A topic visited here before, I think, but I wonder about how the maximum energy input to chloroplasts at photosynthesis spectrum differs from max energy delivered by sun at earth surface. Imagine that heat and UV are not factors. Would photosynthesis be optimal at 1.5 max sunlight equivalents?
-- bungston, Sep 13 2010

[+] for the SF vision of a tree with a forcefield 'round it and artifical gravity: astronauts sleeping in hammocks strung from the branches; control and gizmo rooms are treehouses; after you land you turn off the forcefield and... it's a tree... with treehouses and hammocks.
-- FlyingToaster, Sep 13 2010

I have to say, I'm more of the school that says stick the crew in a freezer until they are needed.

On the plus side though, if you do manage to create a working arcology then it could also be used as the first building block for colonisation/terraforming once it gets to somewhere worth the effort of getting to.
-- DrBob, Sep 14 2010

[DrBob] Cryogenics being what it is, you're more likely to be using the frozen corpses of your crew as building blocks.
-- hippo, Sep 14 2010

Well that's true enough. You wouldn't say that either option is exactly a mature technology. But I'd favour the cryogenics option simply because it gets around the 'Dark Star' type psychological problems of a small group of people being trapped together in a confined area for a long time.
-- DrBob, Sep 14 2010

...although one could simulate these psychological problems with a small group of people trapped for years in, say, an online forum or website, where they endlessly converse with the same people and repeat the same ideas...
-- hippo, Sep 14 2010

-- DrBob, Sep 14 2010

that's a bit far-fetched [hippo]
-- po, Sep 14 2010

I think there might be some way to use those repeating ideas and a small wheel, harnessing the energy they create and using them to power small LEDs.
-- bungston, Sep 14 2010

This probably would not work, but + anyway for referencing Larry Niven's (IMHO) coolest idea ...
-- cowtamer, Sep 17 2010

fast growing algae might be easier - much less energy needed to get a small sample into space in the 1st place

you could deploy large clear double layered plastic sheets outside the craft & pump water between them, add your algae & let it soak up the light

possibly integrated into waste disposal & purification systems from your zero-g loo

but leafy things are far more aesthetically pleasing [+]
-- Skewed, Jun 12 2016

random, halfbakery