Biosphere 2

In the 1990s, what was the name of the self-contained ecosystem that was built to simulate human life on Mars?

And the answer: Biosphere 2.

Photo courtesy: Carol M. Highsmith's America/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The mission behind Biosphere 2 was to determine whether humans were capable of building and living in self-sustaining colonies in outer space. Located in the southwest United States, the facility was filled with plants, animals, and small bodies of water. A research team of eight people sealed themselves inside for two years.

The idea began as a meditation by John Allen, an ecologist who first began a commune called the Synergia Ranch. After realizing that modern-day life yielded little interest in preserving the earth, and with support from billionaire heir Ed Bass, Allen formed the Institute for Echotechnics, an institute focused on ecology, sustainable development, and eventually space colonization. It was there that Allen and Bass conceived the idea for Biosphere 2.

In the beginning, the endeavor proved a success. The media became infatuated with the biospherians (as they were later referred), watching their growth with hawk-like precision to the extent that the first reality television show in the 1990s admitted drawing inspiration from Biosphere 2. However, the tides soon began to turn. Rising carbon dioxide levels, food and water shortages, as well as other impractical realities began to render the project unrealistic in a space environment (not to mention absurdly costly). While popularity waned, the inhabitants began to turn on one another. Two years in, the mission was cancelled.

While the media turned a harsh gaze on the costly, headline-making endeavor, Biosphere 2 offered many lessons about the successes and failures of sustaining life in inhospitable conditions. For two years, the biospherians grew food, drank their own purified sources of water, created environments for ecosystems to endure, and overall supported life in ways had never been done before up until that point. Even today, we have much to learn about the trials and tribulations of surviving where life struggles to persist.

To take a look inside the impressive 3-acre complex, check out this link.


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