Growing Habitats and Furniture in Space Out of Mushrooms

Over the years we have often seen astronauts gently and deftly moving structures into place with their bare hands. Thinks are easy to move in space but getting them there is slightly more tricky and costly. A new piece of research has explored the possibility of growing structures in space based on food substrates. NASA has now awarded a grant to a proposal to investigate further growing structures using fungal mycelial composites, that’s mushrooms to you and I.

Since we crawled out of our caves we started to make our own homes. Even animals to have found ways to create their own cosy habitats. Turtles are born with and carry their home around with them and whilst that is a terribly useful thing to be able to do, it takes a lot of energy to drag it around with you. NASA have had to take this approach, taking habitats with them to support astronauts on space missions. It’s a tried and tested method but if we could find some way of creating living environments from local resource, much like birds sourcing local material to build nests. 

A team of researchers based at NASA have identified a fascinating way to mimic the animal world with a biological based solution. They are exploring the use of composites made from fungal mycelial to grow, yes grow structures in space. At its most adventurous the team hopes that furniture and even habitats may be possible. Straight out of a science fiction movie, it may even be possible that this living material could self heal to repair damage. 

The team are further than this just being a whimsical dream, they have already completed phase one by exploring the way different fungi grew on different food based substrates. This enabled them to raise the Technology Readiness Level (a measurement system to assess maturity of an emerging new technology) to two ‘Technology Concept or Application Formulated.’

Later the team raised the TRL to three ‘Analytical and Experimental Critical Function or Characteristic Proof of Concept’ during phase two. They ran a proof of concept to analyse the myco-material function after exposure to different expected environmental conditions. Rather intriguingly the proof of concepts have focussed on Artemis inspired habitats and a consideration of what might be needed on Mars. 

NASA have now awarded a grant to take the team into phase three to follow on from the incredible progress so far. A significant amount of work has been undertaken to explore the right fungal/algal/bacterial mix and different food sources. Work is also underway to develop high throughput systems for material production. Sand and Regolith simulants have both been tested and prototype scale model structures successfully grown. 

The team hopes to complete all phases successfully and prove that NASA and other space agencies can grow structures with bioccomposite materials. The solution would be faster, cheaper and far more flexible than existing systems and facilitate the growth of structures of anything needed by our keen astronautical explorers. 

Source : Mycotecture off Planet: En route to the Moon and Mars