Was it just a looney millionaire building a dream castle out in the Arizona desert? Was it a serious scientific experiment in a closed system? Was it just a huge, exploitive publicity stunt? Would it provide information needed for a colony on Mars? Were the eight members of the crew guilty of corruption? Did they smuggle food inside with their gear? Did they sneak out at night? Who was sleeping with who?
Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2 was written by two of the original crew, Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson (with Sally Silverstone), from their perspective on the inside. They obviously took the experiment seriously, and believed not only that they were making important contributions to the science of closed biological systems but also that future crews would follow theirs into Biosphere 2.
The book covers the construction of the huge glass structure that was filled with soil, water, plants, and animals to make a miniature world, as complete and self-sufficient as possible. It describes the various biomes (desert, savannah, ocean, rainforest, marsh, etc.) that were included and interlinked as well as the intensive agriculture section, which had to produce enough food for eight people and various animals for two years. During the experiment, the crew and outside researchers worked together to study the ups and downs of the artificial environment. There are plenty of descriptions of daily life, methods of communication, safety procedures, and the machinery that kept everything working: from the computer controlled "rains" to the grain thresher. Also the medical health of the human inhabitants was closely monitored to keep track of the results of eating a carefully controlled diet, getting regular exercise, and more unexpectedly, living with a lower than normal atmospheric oxygen level.
Although the book does a good job of describing the nuts and bolts operations of Biosphere 2, and the work of its crew, it fails to give the reader any real sense of the occupants' personalities. Even in the chapter on recreation, where various crew members are said to write poetry, play music, or pursue other pastimes, the words are sterile. From the beginning, the authors warn that the book is not a juicy tabloid romp, and the question of who slept with who will remain unanswered. Still, a little more personality could have leaked onto the page and done much to improve its readability.
A person who is already interested in the Biosphere 2 experiment, or who wants to get the insiders' perspective, would probably enjoy reading this book. It is not, however, something most people should pick up for a relaxing afternoon diversion.
Published in 1993 by The Biosphere Press (Oracle, AZ).
ISBN 1-882428-07-2(paperback) and 1-882428-10-2(hardcover)