Can A Fungus Help Build Outposts On Mars?

When the technology allows for it, scientists are pretty sure that humans would start living on the Moon (and beyond). And according to new research, fungus from Earth might be coming along for the ride.

This is because at the moment, researchers from NASA are investigating mycelia, which is the mass of nutrient-absorbing, widely branching underground threads that make up much of a fungus's bulk . The reason? It apparently shows potential when it comes to helping construct outposts both on Mars and the Moon.

"Right now, traditional habitat designs for  Mars  are like a turtle — carrying our homes with us on our backs. This is a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs. Instead, we can harness mycelia to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there,” Lynn Rothschild, project principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said.

Working with a team, Rothschild is currently conducting the research with financial aid from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which focuses on providing funding to the development of exploration technologies that can be both innovative and game-changing.

"Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars. Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat — all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment,” NASA officials wrote in a statement.

According to Rothschild, however, the mycelia has potential in doing more than just helping create walls and ceilings. The fungi can also help filter water in outer space, as well as extract minerals from the sewage. And of course, with many technologies that have been developed to help advance space exploration, myco-architecture (as what it’s called) can also have important applications here on Earth, such as improving the quality of our infrastructures and helping reduce its carbon footprint, as an example.

"When we design for space, we're free to experiment with new ideas and materials with much more freedom than we would on Earth," Rothschild added.

Mars Scientists have been exploring Mars to find potential signs of life and to see if it could support new organisms in the future. Pixabay