With that in mind, the research team decided to do a proof-of-concept study on the ISS to see how the mold would fare in blocking space radiation. They set up petri dishes with C. sphaerospermum fungi on one side and a control with no fungi on the other. Underneath, a pair of radiation detectors were connected to Raspberry Pi devices to capture radiation levels, and measure humidity, temperature, flow and other parameters.
The fungi survived just fine in the microgravity environment and lowered radiation levels by nearly two percent. That could rise to as much as five percent if the fungi fully surrounded an object, the team calculated. Considering the relatively thin 1.7 mm fungal “lawn,” (layer) “this shows the ability of C. sphaerospermum to significantly shield against space radiation,” the team wrote in preliminary research paper.
Extrapolating further, the team figured that a 21-cm (8-inch) thick layer would “largely negate” the annual dose you’d get on Mars compared to Earth, which is shielded by our magnetic field. That would drop to just 9 cm or 3.5 inches when combined with Martian soil, aka regolith.
A big benefit of this for interplanetary travel is that you’d need to carry just a small amount of fungus aboard a spaceship. Once on Mars, astronauts would simply add nutrients and grow it into the large amounts necessary to shield any bases.
It’ll still be many years before we send astronauts to the red planet, but no less than three exploration missions, including two rovers, will be en route by the end of July. With the launch of China’s Tianwen-1 last week, the next to launch will be NASA’s Perseverance rover, complete with its own helicopter on July 30th (Thursday) — so stay tuned for more coverage on that.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.