What could be more homey than a house made by fungus? Especially in outer space.
The myco-architecture project can't just design a shell – it's designing a home. That home is more than a set of walls – it has its own ecosystem of sorts, with multiple kinds of organisms alongside the humans it's designed to protect.
Just like the astronauts, fungal mycelia is a lifeform that has to eat and breathe. That's where something called cyanobacteria comes in – a kind of bacterium that can use energy from the Sun to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and fungus food.
These pieces come together in an elegant habitat concept with a three-layered dome. The outer-most layer is made up of frozen water ice, perhaps tapped from the resources on the Moon or Mars. That water serves as a protection from radiation and trickles down to the second layer – the cyanobacteria. This layer can take that water and photosynthesize using the outside light that shines through the icy layer to produce oxygen for astronauts and nutrients for the final layer of mycelia.
That last layer of mycelia is what organically grows into a sturdy home, first activated to grow in a contained environment and then baked to kill the lifeforms – providing structural integrity and ensuring no life contaminates Mars and any microbial life that's already there. Even if some mycelia somehow escaped, they will be genetically altered to be incapable of surviving outside the habitat.
Science fiction writer Larry Niven started working on this idea in 1968, in A Gift From Earth. He thinks of using ocean coral as a building material:
The remnants of the shaping balloon, which gave all architectural coral buildings their telltale bulge, had been carefully scraped away...
...A genetic manipulation of ordinary sea coral, it was the cheapest building material known. The only real cost was in the plastic balloon that guided the growth of the coral and enclosed the coral's special air-borne food.
(Read more about Larry Niven's architectural coral)
NASA scientists (and you) might be interested in the ideas that sf writer Greg Bear described in Killing Titan; see vehicle seeds, a way to save on delivery costs by using materials present at the destination.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/5/2022)