Although it cannot be described as a textile, this material could replace some things that textiles provide. A team of scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is investigating and prototyping new technologies that could grow habitable structures on the moon, Mars and beyond. The technologies rely on fungi and mycelia, the branch-like threads that are part of fungi structure.
“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle—carrying our homes with us on our backs—a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs,” said Lynn Rothschild, the principal investigator on the early-stage project. “Instead, we can harness mycelia to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there.”
The concept, called myco-architecture, explores the properties of fungal mycelium. It may seem far-fetched, but besides being capable of growing and repairing itself, myco-architecture is so durable that it can be stronger than reinforced concrete.
NASA is currently envisioning explorers bringing with them a compact habitat made of dormant fungi that would start growing by adding water. That growth would depend on the nature of mycelia, intertwining to create complex structures with precision. Under the right conditions, mycelia can be coaxed into making new structures similar to leather—or building blocks for housing on Mars.
The team of researchers has “grown” furniture as well as bricks as part of the myco-architecture project.
“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 said. “And after these prototypes are designed for other worlds, we can bring them back to ours.”