In the late 1980’s, Texas oil billionaire Edward Bass spent $200 million-plus on an airtight “space station,” a three-acre glass greenhouse built out in the Arizona desert, 20 minutes north of Tucson. The idea was that this sealed environment, which contained mini-ecosystems (a tropical rainforest, a mini-ocean, a marsh, and a savannah) would be self-sustaining, and would prove that it was possible to maintain life within a completely man made facility.

In September 1991 four men and four women entered the facility with the plan to stay inside for two years. Although they completed their term inside, the project was not a roaring success. That year, the Arizona weather was too cool and rainy to produce the desired greenhouse effect, the level of carbon dioxide inside the settlement rose to dangerous levels and had to be artificially removed, and the pigs, which were being raised to be food, ignored their own feed and instead ate the baby chicks.

Biosphere 2 officials maintain the experiment—which provided valuable data which could someday lead to the establishment of a space station or colonies on the moon--was a success. However, they admit that eight people was too small a number to do all of the work necessary to sustain themselves, and at the same time more people could not have been supported on the amount of food produced. Since that time, other groups of scientists have spent shorter periods of time living in Biosphere 2.

In 1996, Columbia University took over the management of Biosphere2, and states as its mission, “through excellence and scientific research and education:

  • to serve as a center for teaching, learning, and research about Earth and its systems
  • to catalyze interdisciplinary thinking and understanding about Earth and its future
  • to be a key center for Earth education and for outreach to industry, government and the general public
  • to focus public attention on the issues related to Earth systems planning and management"   *

It is now possible to take college courses and conduct field studies at the site; each fall and spring semester, 100 undergraduate students from all over the world come to live and study at the Biosphere 2 campus. In an attempt to help with funding and engage public interest, B2 has also become a tourist attraction, complete with gift shop, motel, and café. It is even possible to tour inside the greenhouse structure, visiting the different biomes, the Agro-Forestry section, the "Technosphere", and the (human) Habitat and Kitchen.

By the way, the name Biosphere 2 comes from the fact that we're all living on Biosphere 1--good ol' Spaceship Earth.

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I didn’t actually make it to B2 on my most recent trip to Arizona; that leaves something for next time, I guess. This information has been gathered from B2’s official website, * http://www.bio2.edu/index.html, and the Arizona Discovery Guide, by Betty W. and Donald W. Martin, DiscoverGuides, 1996.

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