Investigating the Possibility of Using Fungi to Develop Habitats in Space: A NASA Study

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley has recently been awarded funding from the NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The funding will be used to develop cutting-edge technology for the concept of “growing” habitats using fungi as part of the Mycotecture Off Planet project. This unique project aims to develop habitats for future space explorations to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The award, called the Phase III NIAC award, provides $2 million over a span of two years. The funding will be used for the advancement of research in the field of mycotecture, which could potentially enable astronauts to carry dormant fungi on space missions. These fungi can then be activated with water to grow into a functional habitat, thus providing an innovative solution for long-term space habitation. Importantly, this process is designed to be safely contained to prevent any environmental contamination.

Lynn Rothschild, a senior research scientist at NASA Ames, leads the Mycotecture Off Planet project. The project not only aims to innovate in-space construction but also envisions the creation of a multi-use material that could significantly reduce mass and save resources for other mission priorities. The project has already shown promise with previous NIAC awards, demonstrating a proof of concept by creating fungal-based biocomposites, testing materials in a planetary simulator, and designing mycelium-based Moon habitats.

The project also has potential applications on Earth, including water filtration and the extraction of minerals from wastewater. Thus, the benefits of this research extend beyond space exploration to addressing environmental issues on our home planet.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has hailed the project as a stepping stone to the Artemis campaign, NASA’s ambitious mission to return humans to the Moon and eventually venture to Mars and beyond. The funding from NIAC allows NASA to support visionary, early-stage research that could revolutionize the future of space exploration.

The Phase III award will allow the research team to optimize material properties and make progress towards testing in low Earth orbit. Future applications may include integration into commercial space stations or use in missions to the Moon, with the ultimate goal being deployment on Mars. The Mycotecture Off Planet project exemplifies how advanced concepts can change how we envision future exploration missions and lays the groundwork for innovative visions to come to life.

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