Note — May 08, 2022

How Fungi Can Help Feed Future Space Colonies

I don’t know if there’s a word for it, but there’s a kind of joy of science and understanding in Maddie Stone’s articles, especially in her Science of Fiction, that’s always so fun to read, and reminds me of Rose Eveleth’s Flash Forward podcast about possible & not so possible futures (the two should do a collab 🤩 😎). In this one, Stone looks into the use of mushrooms as a food and protein source in space colonies by way of The Expanse (always a good start), a real high-tech mushroom-growing company (Smallhold), a blue oyster grow kit named Master Chief, while of course dropping some science along the way.

[T]he company's mini-farms — climate-controlled grow boxes that it sells to restaurants and other businesses — can produce 30 to 40 pounds of mushrooms in a week in a space of about 48 cubic feet. […]

Like humans, fungi are heterotrophic, meaning they get their energy from breaking down existing carbon-based compounds rather than using sunlight to make new ones via photosynthesis. However, Carter notes that while fungi aren't photosynthetic, they are phototropic, meaning they use light as a cue to direct their growth and produce the types of mushrooms we’re familiar with. […]

Carter suggests future spacefaring humans might want to grow mushrooms alongside a starchy food like potatoes (rich in Vitamin C), and a nutrient-dense green like kale, seaweed, or even edible algae. Helpfully, plants and algae also produce oxygen — which mushrooms and humans alike need to survive — while scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.