Future humans living on the Moon and Mars could one day live in homes grown from mushrooms

Someday they will be homes for humans on the Moon or Mars, but for now, the first test alien habitats are being built on Earth with the help of an unexpected material: fungi.

American architectural firm Red House is working with NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms to build new biohabitats (homes made of living organisms) in space.

Red House is mixing the waste biomass of Namibia’s infamous “invasive bush,” an invasive species that drains groundwater and turns fertile areas into deserts, with mycelium, a fungus whose structure is an underground network of connected fibers. .

The goal is to create food and, in this case, a sustainable building material that is reportedly stronger than concrete.

The mycelium has unique properties “acting like a glue to bind substrates together [such as construction debris and plants] together,” Christopher Maurer, founder and principal architect of Red House, told Euronews Next.

How are houses ‘grown’ on Mars?

Biomass will be more difficult to produce in outer space, however, “because there’s no biology… nothing for the mycelium to grow on,” says Maurer.

But the company has decided to create an alien design using materials from waste streams here on Earth.

They envision an uncrewed mission arriving at Mars with a folded shelter contained within a sealed bag of dried algae (more specifically chaetomorpha, or sea emerald as it’s known) and dormant mycelium.

Comments on the operation of the Red House model – Red House

Once in situ, a Mars rover would inject carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water from the Red Planet into the sealed bag to rehydrate the algae.

“It’s like blowing up a balloon,” Maurer said.

The reaction will produce oxygen that will replenish the structure and at the same time nourish the mycelium.

The mycelium will then grow and expand into its desired structural shape and fuse with the algae to form a rock-hard biomass.

The “growth” of the houses would be quite fast, he added.

“In a dream scenario, it could be erected in a matter of hours or even minutes if you had the right kind of pressure pumping into it. Then creating the solid, dry biomaterial that becomes insulator would ideally take four weeks.”

Red House

Render of the interior of the Red House on the Moon – Red House

Stronger than concrete and radiation repellent.

Fungal-bound biomass is not only notable for its ability to leave Earth as a very small folded mass that is then converted to “tons and tons of material” at the destination, but it can also “convert high-energy radiation, which is our main responsibility [on Mars]into a resource to create more biomass.

“Radiation is the main thing that prevents us from going to Mars,” Maurer explained, adding that research has shown mycelium’s abilities to function as a protective shell from radiation “at levels higher than most materials.”

The project team is building “an organism on a macro scale,” says Maurer. “We’re almost designing the architecture for the microbes, and then they form the architecture.”

Can mushrooms really make a home?

Maurer says they’ve already posed the question to NASA’s planetary protection experts, “and they looked at it and said it looks good.”

“We’re just growing the mycelium… and there are all sorts of different species that don’t produce fungus. They can’t produce spores, which is often the problem with mold and things like that,” he told Euronews Next.

Ultimately, the sealed container carries fewer risks compared to shipping humans inhabited by millions of microbes with a huge microbiome that would be impossible to sterilize, he says.

Red House

Renders of the Red House on the Moon – Red House

When will fungi help colonize the Moon or Mars?

So when are we likely to see mushroom-based dwellings on the Moon or the Red Planet?

“If we get the money from the moon, then we can do it in a matter of years because we have a lot of the parts in place. But if we continue at the rate we’re doing there, expecting the technology to come from everywhere, it could be decades.” Maurer said.

However, the Red House prototype has already passed the proof-of-concept phase at NASA’s Advanced Innovative Concepts (NIAC) and is currently in phase two, what they call architectural design development. Phase three would be a small demo.

The architecture firm is also preparing to send a small 15x15cm model of its prototype to the Moon using NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS), which offers private companies the ability to land on its surface and Bring scientific instruments.

The prototype will travel to the Moon “in a kind of sealed container in which we will have water and carbon dioxide to feed the algae, which will then create oxygen that will feed the fungi.”

The large-scale, long-term mission would require NASA to be able to obtain water, potentially on the surface of Mars.

Are there applications for mushroom architecture on Earth?

Beyond space exploration, Maurer believes the technology could “open up the architecture to be able to do new things… build in a way where you can actually store carbon instead of emitting it.”

In the same way that reinforced concrete changed the way we build structures, “this makes an improvement, almost an investment, in the carbon footprint that modernism had.”

The world’s building stock is responsible for 40 percent of the planet’s carbon footprint, “so if you could reverse that, you could see a huge, huge change in the way we’re putting carbon into the atmosphere.”

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