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Mushrooms Could Help House Astronauts on the Moon, NASA Says
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Mushrooms Could Help House Astronauts on the Moon, NASA Says

Maren Bennett
Maren Bennett
March 03, 2023
3 min

Has science gone too far? Like, 238,900 miles too far?

If recent studies on the mass-communication powers of the mycelial network or mushroom-powered tech, myceliotronics, make your head spin, you may want to hold onto the Earth tight for this one.

A new NASA project aims to put mushrooms on the moon within the next two years but not to have astronauts floating more ways than one. Scientists are testing fungi’s ability to grow into habitable structures on the lunar surface.

Dubbed mycotecture, the study of whether mushrooms can be synthesized to be used as a building material, the project could change the game for off-planet habitats in the near future.

Spearheading this project, proposed initially by NASA’s Lynn Rothschild, is architect Chris Maurer, working in collaboration with NASA and the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms alongside his team from redhouse studio.

Making mycelial building-blocks

Bacteria in a petri dish growing into a mushroom shape.
Shutterstock

To begin synthesizing the stucco-like mycelium material for building structures, Mauer adds chaetomorpha, a type of algae that serves as mushroom food, and water, to an inflatable mold.

Once this alga grows to a substantial amount inside the mold, mycelium is added, which slowly takes over the shape of the mold as it consumes the chaetomorpha and expands.

After filling the mold’s desired shape, scientists use pressurized air to compact the fungal creation into a structurally sound, dense material. The mycomaterial is then baked to solidify its shape and kill any remaining living organisms to prevent cross-contamination on extraterrestrial planets.

From here to there

White mycelium growing along a gray surface.
Shutterstock

The initial mycotecture study by evolutionary biologist and astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild of the NASA Ames Research Center explores the synthesis of mycelia to create space stations, specifically in the context of growing these habitats off-Earth.

Rothschild argues that when space missions bring construction materials to build lunar and planetary habitats, the added mass expends vital energy that astronauts could utilize in other, more urgent regard.

After synthesizing mycelia alongside the 2018 Stanford-Brown-RISD iGEM team to create designs, run tests, and build items, NASA shifted to implementing mycotecture off-Earth. Through trial and error, NASA is working to identify the challenges of growing mushrooms off-planet, with eventual sights on sending these mycomaterial building blocks to the moon.

Challenge accepted

Mushrooms growing inside of a greenhouse.
Shutterstock

While tests here on Earth have yielded positive results for these mushroom molds, sending them into space opens up entirely new territory and difficulties. Growing these mushrooms on the moon, much less coercing them into habitable molds, isn’t easy.

Luckily, the biggest issue of simply growing these mushrooms has its answer: lunar soil, according to Rothschild, will be mixed with the same nutrients a mushroom gets from its usual plant-based meal, chaetomorpha.

To make matters easier, these mushrooms can be farmed inside the same greenhouses used to cultivate food for astronauts. With controlled humidity and artificial lighting, creating the perfect growing conditions isn’t too far-fetched.

CEO and co-founder of mycotecture design firm Ecovative Eben Bayer vouches for Rothschild’s hypothesis for the mushroom home’s viability and their ability to protect space explorers from harmful radiation.

Additionally, keeping this fungal mycelium hydrated makes the material fire-resistant. Mushrooms, dude!

The Swiss-Army Shroom

Mycelium of mushrooms on agar in a petri dish.
Shutterstock

While cultivating mushrooms to use as lunar habitats seems about as radically sci-fi as it can get, this newfound synthesization process can be used in more ways than one.

For our robotic friends on Mars, smaller molds have been used to make mycelial sheds to protect rovers from the elements.

Later space explorations may also use these mycomaterials to nourish planetary soil for growing crops and other organic materials necessary for life in space.

Will mushrooms be the answer to meeting Martians? Only time will tell, but this mycelial pursuit shows no signs of stopping.

References

  1. Hilden, Nick. “The future of space travel might rely on buildings made of mushrooms.” Astronomy.com, January 25, 2023. https://astronomy.com/news/2023/01/the-future-of-space-travel-may-depend-on-mushrooms
  2. Hilden, Nick. “NASA’s Trippy Thought: Build Space Homes Out of Mushrooms.” The Daily Beast, November 16, 2021. https://www.thedailybeast.com/nasa-astronauts-could-live-in-future-homes-made-of-mushrooms-on-mars-and-the-moon
  3. Rothschild, Lynn. “Mycotecture Off Planet.” NASA.gov, April 7, 2021. https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/2021_Phase_I/Mycotecture_Off_Planet/

Fact Checked: Shannon Ratliff


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science
Maren Bennett

Maren Bennett

Content Writer

Table Of Contents

1
Making mycelial building-blocks
2
From here to there
3
Challenge accepted
4
The Swiss-Army Shroom
5
References

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