NASA astronauts can live in futuristic mushroom houses on Mars and the moon

When we think of NASA, we tend to think big, like giant rockets, sprawling space stations, and huge telescopes that allow us to see billions of light-years into the vast expanse of space. For now, however, NASA is experimenting with a technology that started off as microscopic, but that could have a huge impact on the future of humanity as it enters its final frontier: mushrooms.

Inspired by the emerging field of “mycotecture” (a word that combines architecture with mycology, the study of fungi), a team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is looking at how different types of Fungi such as fungi can be used to grow habitats and other structures in extraterrestrial environments.

That’s not magic – it’s science. Evolutionary biologist and astronomer Lynn Rothschild leads this unusual lab-inspired mission. The best way to describe her work is through the word “cool” and it’s hard to disagree.

“Some of my students have used mycotecture to help build the body of a biodegradable drone in 2013, which I thought was incredible,” Rothschild told The Daily Beast. “So then you start thinking, well, what else can you do with it — aliens? And one of the immediate ideas was, why not build an entire habitat? “

Using mushrooms to build structures capable of withstanding the rigors of space exploration may seem far-fetched, but they turn out to be well-suited for the task. For example, blocks made of Ganoderma lucidum are strong enough to withstand thousands of PSI. Thanks to their high carbon fiber concentration, they have potential to act as storage battery. And according to Rothschild, fungi are also well suited for creating structures in space because their spore transport is very cost-, mass and effort-efficient.

“Ideally we want something we can build ourselves,” says Rothschild. It could be as easy as filling a bag with fungal material and some spores of other organisms, and sealing it off so as not to contaminate the rest of the planet. The bag can be inflated and held at optimal pressure, and the fungus can simply grow and fill the bag and have a structure that can literally build itself in place. No need for bulldozers or tractors and other heavy equipment to move the soil and soil around. “You want to do as little as possible to be able to build something alien because it takes resources,” she said.

Rothschild is fully aware that when it comes to space, saving resources is paramount. NASA Estimates that every pound launched into the lowest orbit costs $10,000 — and that doesn’t even get us to the moon, let alone Mars.

“Anytime you have to launch something from Earth, it’s incredibly expensive,” she said. “Anytime you can reduce the cost of what you’re sending with the volume and volume of what you’re sending up, that also means you can use that cost and space for other things. another thing. Maybe you could take more potions or more food or more astronauts or whatever. So I feel this constant pressure to be able to come up with solutions that reduce mass, use readily available materials and be flexible in your ability to adapt to the local environment. Mycotecture should be good for all of that. “

Feces are made from mycella, which are invisible fungal hyphae that hold fungal structures together.

iGEM ​​Team Stanford-Brown-RISD 2018

Mycotecture can also be deployed to meet a variety of structural needs beyond just walls and ceilings. A mushroom house is perhaps the most radical approach, but Rothschild emphasizes that you can grow mushrooms as insulation for bioreactors, or small structures like sheds for domes to protect them from the elements. And of course, there’s always the opportunity to build smaller furniture like furniture with mushroom materials.

Mushrooms probably won’t be the only biological tools used by future space builders. NASA’s Ames team is very interested in looking at uses around a common soil bacterium called Bacillus subtilis, Proven capable of surviving the harshest environments. A recent German satellite mission carried samples of these bacteria into orbit. Those specimens survived four years of exposure to the space vacuum, and the Ames team thinks it could be used to repair cracks in extraterrestrial structures by “growing” into plaques.

“It’s just adding one more material to the architect’s palette.”

– Lynn Rothschild

These organic arrays could also have biosensors embedded in them that can convey important information about the structure’s condition, turning different colors if oxygen pressure drops or temperature changes to related level. “Imagine how great it would be if the walls changed color if it was too cold in your house,” says Rothschild.

Really great. But can we really jump from spores to spatial structures? Civil engineering hasn’t even accepted mushrooms as a building material on this planet.

But living in space means thinking outside the box. “I want to tell people that we are not competing with other methods of building alien habitats or structures,” Rothschild said. “It’s just adding one more material to the architect’s palette. When you buy a house, you don’t say I want the house to be 100% wood or I want the house to be 100% brick or I want 100% stone – you have a mixture of materials. And we’re just really showing that this is a material that’s going to have a lot of very cool properties and a lot of cool potential to help build alien structures. “


Artist’s concept of a Martian habitat built with fungal materials.

studio redhouse

There is a growing community of people working in theology right here on Earth who share Rothschild’s optimism. Eben Bayer, CEO and co-founder of the architectural protection design firm, told The Daily Beast, telling The Daily Beast: “It is 100% possible to deploy active mushroom composite structures motion in space. He reiterated the advantages Rothschild outlined, adding that because buildings that sprout like mushrooms will be irrigated with water, they can be highly effective at protecting space occupants from exposure. radioactive contamination. Furthermore, they can be grown using the same greenhouses used to farm food.

In fact, growing these space mushrooms can be one of the easiest problems to solve. On Earth, wood chips and grass clippings are easy sources of junk food. “No one will mow the lawn on Mars or the moon in the near future,” says Rothschild. “So we are looking at using the moon [soil] and add some nutrients to it, or actually let the fungus grow around the very fine mesh trellis or drop the stitches, etc.”

NASA’s Ames team is realistic that we won’t be seeing mushroom houses on the moon any time soon. Rothschild expects a proof of concept demonstration within the next two to five years. Then scientists will actually need to test the whole idea in a real-world mission.


Artist’s concept of the interior of an extraterrestrial house whose architecture protects the body.

studio redhouse

“The great thing about working at NASA is being able to get paid to really have revolutionary, far-fetched ideas,” says Rothschild. One of the really cool things about doing this space exploration is that I don’t have to worry about an investment company’s quarterly reports, [or] an existing infrastructure. There’s nothing there. You are starting with a blank medium, so you can do something really revolutionary.”

Rothschild paused for a moment and laughed. “Oh, just another day at NASA.” | NASA astronauts can live in futuristic mushroom houses on Mars and the moon


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