In the hope of coming up with a relatively inexpensive and logistically viable way to build habitats for humans on the Moon and on Mars, NASA is turning to an unlikely source: fungi. The proposed structures wouldn't much resemble the mushroom houses seen on The Smurfs, but they would certainly rely on a similar building material.
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program has been experimenting with mycelia, the thread-like material inside fungi that can grow into complex structures. The mycelia could be used to build the inner framework of a dome-like habitat that would also include nutrient-producing cyanobacteria as a second layer and water ice on the outside.
While the mycelia would be alive while they grow and form the structures, the finished homes would be "baked" to kill off any lifeforms and prevent contamination.
NIAC's work is all about finding a viable alternative to hauling building materials into space, but it has also opened up some possibilities for construction projects on Earth.
"When we design for space, we're free to experiment with new ideas and materials with much more freedom than we would on Earth," said Lynn Rothschild, NIAC's myco-architecture principal investigator. "And after these prototypes are designed for other worlds, we can bring them back to ours."
Fun with fungi:
- Many forms of fungi, including mushrooms, can lie dormant for decades but reawaken under the right conditions.
- The largest living organism on Earth is the honey mushroom, a fungus spread across 2,000 acres in Oregon.
- One fungus has been found to be able to break down plastic in weeks, rather than months or years, and others are being used to turn crop waste into bioethanol.