NASA has been working on a way to get back to the moon for the past few years, and now, they’re claiming to return by 2024. The goal is to potentially establish a permanent human presence on the moon by the end of the decade, however, there are a ton of logistical obstacles to work through before that idea can get anywhere close to becoming a reality.
One of the largest issues NASA scientists have been working through is space radiation. The radiation levels in space pose a genuine threat for all astronauts. On Earth, the planet’s magnetic and atmosphere fields shield us from the deadly radiation that exists in space, however, that “safety blanket” of atmosphere disappears the further into space one goes.
For reference, astronauts working in the International Space Station are receiving 20 times the normal amount of radiation when compared to what we endure here on Earth. Obviously, this is a major concern, and is part of the reason scientists have been working tirelessly with an unexpected organism to help combat this radiation issue.
Scientists have found that fungi and mold species found in Chernobyl, one of the most radioactive places on Earth, are thriving in Russia by “feeding on the extreme levels of radiation.” For those who are unaware, in 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant experienced an explosion that blew a hole through a No. 4 reactor on the plant. The level of radiation around the plant was so intense it was said that exposure would result in death within 60 seconds, so finding species of fungi and agriculture in general was astounding.
The initial study on these fungi species were published in a scientific journal last week, and specifically examined a species known as Cladosporium sphaerospermum (CS). The writers of the study claim that this fungi can be “used as a self-healing, self-replicating shield to protect astronauts in deep space.”
The researchers explained in the study that they placed this specific species of fungi in the International Space Station for 30 days where they monitored its level of radiation absorption. They set up a petri dish with two sides; one side contained no fungi and acted as a control for the experiment, the other side contained CS particles. The dish was placed under a radiation detector where measurements were taken every 110 seconds.
The study revealed that the fungi was able to adapt to the gravity conditions in space and “feed” on the radiation the same way it did in Chernobyl. Initial findings showed that CS was able to even block some incoming radiation by decreasing the levels up to 2%.
In the conclusion of these findings the scientists claim that the biggest advantage of using CS fundi specifically is that it can replicate itself on its own, meaning workers at NASA would only have to send a small amount into orbit with astronauts to make it effective. With some tweaking and a lot more experimentation, researchers believe this fungi can be used to shield bases on the Moon or even Mars.
As of right now NASA is planning on sending the Perseverance rover to the Red Planet by the end of the month, and the current astronauts aboard the International Space Station are set on returning to Earth on August 2nd.