Before Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin wrote Tuf Voyaging, the darkly comic tale of a solo space traveler zipping from planet to planet with his own unique brand of problem solving. His magic weapon? Mushrooms. As far-fetched as it sounds, fungi are the perfect long-distance travel companion. In the right environment, spores keep indefinitely and are small enough that you could pack an entire farm on a postage stamp. Looking toward to the future and our inevitable trek to the outer reaches of space, mushrooms might just be the ticket we need to get off the planet.
In fact, we’ve already given zero-gravity mushroom growing a shot. In 1993, cultures of Flammulina velutipes were sent into orbit on the joint Space Shuttle Columbia/Spacelab D-2 mission. As observed by amateur mycologists, mushrooms tend to grow as a veiled cap atop a long, spindly stem. Remove gravity from the equation, however, and the mushrooms grow in every direction. Gills flipped inside-out like windblown umbrellas, and mushrooms fruited in every orientation imaginable. The results were promising. The mushrooms grew unexpectedly, yet still produced fruit under off-world conditions. Though the experiment lasted just long enough to make these observations, we’ll need to push our fungal gardening experiments further if we aim to observe how zero gravity affects mushroom growth.
Fungi tech here on Earth has grown by leaps and bounds in the past couple decades. Mycoprotein is a vegetarian meat substitute, originally developed to combat food shortages, made from Mycelium—not the fruit, but the tiny white strands that act as a sort of root for mushrooms. Nutritious protein as a blank canvas. For now, you can find it amongst the faux meats in your grocer’s freezers, formed and flavored into shapes like bacon, burgers and chicken-less nuggets.