Today, Biosphere 2 is a science research facility in Arizona. But it was so much more than that in the beginning. It was an experimental space colony...
A quick gander at the Wikipedia page of Biosphere 2 reveals the original intention of this 3.14-acre structure in the Arizona desert. It says, "Biosphere 2 was originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space as a substitute for Earth's biosphere".
Basically, it was built as an experimental space colony, to see if humans could survive on other, less hospitable planets.
For two years between 1991 and 1993, an eight human crew, called "biospherians", were locked into the air-tight structure. Their mission was to "to study the interactions between humans, farming, technology and the rest of nature as a new kind of laboratory for the study of the global ecology".
Things didn't go particularly well. Just two days in, researcher Jane Poynter had to be evacuated for medical treatment after cutting her finger off in a machine. She returned shortly afterwards to continue the mission, but there were more issues to come.
The biome was divided into seven areas, each with a particular environment inside. There was a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grasslands and a fog desert. The other two sections were an agricultural system where they grew their own food, and a human habitat made up of living spaces, laboratories and workshops.
Outside of this structure are two massive domes. These are the "lungs" of the operation, keeping the sealed biome pressurised.
Anyway, within a few months, the oxygen levels started to drop and carbon dioxide to rise. Needless to say, this made breathing difficult, but the crew soldiered on. The lack of oxygen continued to drop, which affected their ability to do mundane tasks, like farming, which meant that they were hungry all the time.
They did manage to complete the two-year project, but it came to light in the years that followed that they did receive assistance from outside. The had food deliveries, including seeds to grow more edible products. Oh yes, and a healthy dose of oxygen so they wouldn't die.
All-in-all, there were many lessons learned, albeit many of them pointing to the fact that creating a biodome like the Earth is not easy. It wasn't just the physical challenges either. The eight crew had split into two factions, barely on speaking terms with each other. You can take a deeper-dive into the experiment here if you want to learn more.
There was another mission in 1994, but just a few months in and the company was dissolved and the experiment aborted.
For the next eight years, Columbia University managed the facility and used it for experiments of their own. In 2003, the owners considered demolishing the entire thing to make houses and a shopping mall. Fortunately, the University of Arizona stepped in and saved the place.
They still use it to this day and it's awesome! The guys over at Yes Theory on YouTube organised to visit Biosphere 2. To see what thy found, then hit the play button below.
Biosphere 2 may not have achieved its intended goal, but it has given us valuable insight into the complexity and dangers of colonising another planet.