NASA Explores the Potential of Fungi to Grow Space Habitats

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jul 01, 2024

As NASA prepares for extended missions to the Moon and Mars, a newly selected concept aims to “grow” habitats using fungi for future explorers. Researchers at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley have received funding under NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to advance their habitat research.

The Phase III NIAC award provides $2 million over two years to further develop the Mycotecture Off Planet project, preparing for a potential demonstration mission. The project is led by Lynn Rothschild, a senior research scientist at NASA Ames.

“As NASA prepares to explore farther into the cosmos than ever before, it will require new science and technology that doesn’t yet exist,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA’s space technology team and the NIAC program unlock visionary ideas – ideas that make the impossible, possible. This new research is a steppingstone to our Artemis campaign as we prepare to go back to the Moon to live, to learn, to invent, to create – then venture to Mars and beyond.”

While some habitats will be delivered to planetary surfaces, the mycotecture project team is developing technologies to “grow” habitats on the Moon, Mars, and beyond using fungi and mycelia, the underground threads of fungi. This approach could enable explorers to travel with a lightweight habitat containing dormant fungi, which could grow into a functional habitat with the addition of water, while being safely contained to avoid environmental contamination.

“We are committed to advancing technologies to transport our astronauts, house our explorers, and facilitate valuable research,” said Walt Engelund, associate administrator for Programs in the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We invest in these technologies throughout their lifecycle, recognizing their potential to help us accomplish our goals – benefiting industry, our agency, and humanity.”

The mycotecture project aims to create a multi-use material for in-space construction, reducing mass and saving resources for other mission priorities. Earlier NIAC awards demonstrated proof of concept, with the team creating fungal-based biocomposites, testing materials in a planetary simulator, and designing mycelium-based Moon habitats. This technology also has Earth applications, such as water filtration and extracting minerals from wastewater.

From deep space exploration to advanced propulsion and robotics, NASA supports early-stage space technology research that could transform the future.

“Mycotecture Off Planet exemplifies how advanced concepts can change how we envision future exploration missions,” said John Nelson, NIAC Program Executive. “As NASA embarks on the next era of space exploration, NIAC helps the agency lay the necessary groundwork to bring innovative visions to life.”

The Phase III award will allow the research team to optimize material properties and 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 of deployment on Mars.

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts supports visionary, early-stage research through multiple progressive phases. In January 2024, NASA announced 19 Phase I and II proposal selections. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds NIAC activities, focusing on developing new technologies and capabilities for current and future missions.

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