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NASA’s fungus could be used to build future homes on the Moon . . . or Mars


Bricks produced using mycelium, yard waste and wood chips as a part of the myco-architecture project. Similar materials could be used to build habitats on the Moon or Mars.

To build a home on Earth, it’s simple: Call Home Depot and schedule a delivery.

Shipping wood, metal and glass to Mars – millions of miles away, reachable only by spacecraft — is much tougher.

A team at NASA Ames Research Center has a proposed solution:  “mycotecture,” the creation of construction material using the fungal strands of mushrooms.

If shipped as tiny spores, NASA hopes the fungus could grow our future Martian homes – without pricey delivery charges.

“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle — carrying our homes with us on our backs,” said principal investigator Lynn Rothschild, whose team will be given $2 million over two years to advance the concept. “It’s 100% reliable, but you’re spending a huge amount of energy carrying it around.”

In ice cube trays in a windowless lab, Rothschild is growing fungus to test its resilience to the extreme conditions of space, such as intense heat and bone-chilling cold. Colleague Maikel Rheinstadter of Canada’s McMaster University is subjecting it to micro-gravity and deadly ionizing radiation.

The goal is to create a product, like particle board, that can be manipulated to build homes, garages, sheds and furniture — used not just by astronauts but, someday, ordinary citizens as well. NASA’s Artemis campaign aims to send people to the Moon in 2026. Living on Mars isn’t far behind.

“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, in a written statement.  “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.”

Life in a space capsule is too confining. Apollo 11’s lunar module that in 1969 briefly landed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon was the size of prisoners’ Cell Block C at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

On Earth, we can simply book an Airbnb or couch-surf with friends. On Mars, however, our fate is much more bleak: death by freezing, carbon dioxide poisoning, radiation exposure or getting sucked into space by a huge dust devil.

There’s no dialing 911. And the red planet is indifferent to our suffering.

But home construction on the Moon or Mars is daunting.

“When we go off planet Earth, we’ve got a huge, huge problem — and that is “ ‘upmass,’ ” the cost of transporting cargo in space, Rothschild said.

When building at home or work, “I don’t care if something weighs 300 pounds. But there are ‘launch costs’ in getting something that’s heavy out of Earth’s gravity. Can I take that 300-pound piece of equipment and get it down to, maybe, 30 ounces?”

“Life,” which starts as a tiny cell, seed or spore, “can solve this ‘upmass’ problem,” she said.

A common fungus, a red-colored species called Ganoderma lucidum, seem to offer the most practical strategy for the project, called Mycotecture Off Planet.  The …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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