Biosphere 2 is Dying

7 Dec
2011
Posted in: Arizona
By    9 Comments

If you grew up when we grew up, chances are you learned about the Biosphere 2 project in science class. Maybe you even read about it in Ranger Rick magazine. It was a hugely ambitious project — recreate the earth (aka Biosphere 1) so that people could live inside entirely self-sufficient. Some called it a failure because people only lived in there for two entire years, but they were calorie and oxygen deprived. However, many scientists call it a success because of the amount of knowledge gained by the experiment. We vote it as a success.

It was interesting to visit. In the magazines growing up, the entire structure radiated newness and cleanliness. Now, there are rusty spots, the paint is pealing away … it’s dying. Biosphere 1 is kicking Biosphere 2’s ass.

However, it was most interesting to hear the insider stories. Rumor has it that two factions formed during the long mission and there are still members of the groups that refuse to speak to each other! And supposedly there was at least one Biosphere hook-up — two of the original team were married after the mission according to our guide. Also according to our guide, the second experiment ended because the knowledge they were gaining was the same as the knowledge gained during the first experiment. Because of this, it was cut short. Wikipedia, however, tells a different story: federal marshals served the management team with a retraining order, removing them from the site. This pushed the mission into chaos.

The structure is now being used for other experiments, notably the LEO experiment that is going on now that hopes to learn more about soil formation and the interaction between rain and soil. It’s now wholly owned by the University of Arizona, and it’s evidently pretty expensive to keep up — tickets for the tour are $20.

We, of course, took a lot of pictures.

Biosphere 2 housing -- everybody had a duplex apartment.

Biosphere 2 housing — everybody had a duplex apartment.

Biosphere 2 kitchen. They cooked without oil for 2 years.

Biosphere 2 kitchen. They cooked without oil for 2 years.

The Biosphere 2 rainforest

The Biosphere 2 rainforest.

The Biosphere 2 "ocean" area.

The Biosphere 2 “ocean” area.

Under the ocean.

Under the ocean.

The guts of the Biosphere 2 building. This leads to one of the lungs.

The guts of the Biosphere 2 building. This leads to one of the lungs.

One of the lungs -- the middle ceiling rises and falls to equalize the pressure when sealed. Otherwise it would blow out on hot days.

One of the lungs — the middle ceiling rises and falls to equalize the pressure when sealed. Otherwise it would blow out on hot days.

The LEO project gives the building new life.

The LEO project gives the building new life.

The LEO is a big experiment. This is the old agricultural area.

The LEO is a big experiment. This is the old agricultural area.

Biosphere 2 shows its age -- construction finished in the early '90s.

Biosphere 2 shows its age — construction finished in the early ’90s.

A fresh coat of paint would do wonders ... and cost millions.

A fresh coat of paint would do wonders … and cost millions.

  • Anonymous

    Man, the designers for Portal 2 nailed it.

    • http://www.pauldavidolson.com/blog/ Paul David Olson

      Ha!

  • Lenny Maiorani

    My Biosphere 2 archive is here.

    • http://www.pauldavidolson.com/blog/ Paul David Olson

      Nice pics!

  • Rhowell64

    Went there. They need to keep it alive as a great learning tool. I talked about it in classes for years.

    • http://www.pauldavidolson.com/blog/ Paul David Olson

      Agreed. It’s really cool there are still experiments there. But none of the new ones are as awesome as what it was built for.

  • Hlj789

    It’s a useless pile of metal. Did they happen to mention that most of their “science” experiments failed, the “oops” pregnancy, and how they were caught bringing in outside food and medical aid? Also, the trees were twisted or fell over as they grew because the “scientists” “forgot” to account for how wind aided the thickness of bark as trees grow. 

    • http://www.pauldavidolson.com/blog/ Paul David Olson

      I wouldn’t call it a failure. The experiment taught us a lot — most notably that it’s very, very difficult to live self-contained in a human-engineered ecosystem. Should be easier to do on Mars though, I imagine. 

    • Mrs Schaarschmidt

      Successful science isn’t doing things that we already know how to do.  Obviously an experiment will often not work correctly at first – or we wouldn’t need to experiment.  They didn’t “forget” to account for how the wind aided the thickness of the bark — they didn’t know.  Now they do.  That’s how science works.