Sunday, May 30, 2010

Biosphere 2!

It wasn't many years ago that Biosphere 2, nestled in the foothills of Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains about 30 miles north of Tucson, was the laughing stock of scientific research. Today, Biosphere 2 Center still functions and has become a major tourist attraction in the Tucson area.

Built in the late 1980s with $150 million in funding from Texas oil magnate Edward Bass, Biosphere 2 was designed as an airtight replica of Earth's environment (Biosphere 1). This 7,200,000-cubic-foot sealed glass and space-frame structure contains 5 biomes, including a 900,000-gallon ocean, a rain forest, a desert, agricultural areas and a human habitat.

Some of the early designers and managers were interested in space travel and the possibility of colonizing the Moon or Mars. By building Biosphere 2 and sealing people inside, they hoped to learn what problems would arise from living in a closed system. So it was that in 1991, a colony of 8 people set about to live inside Biosphere 2 for two years.

The people who were selected to be Biospherians and live inside Biosphere 2 during the two closure periods with humans came from 7 different countries. All spent several years in training to become more proficient in their own fields as well as gaining expertise in the skills of the others.

The first crew of Biospherians (4 women and 4 men) entered Biosphere 2 on September 26, 1991. The crew members remained inside for two years despite various problems, including limited agricultural productivity, and emerged on September 26, 1993. After a 6-month transition period, a second crew of 7 biospherians (5 men and 2 women) entered Biosphere 2. Unfortunately, after a number of physical and social problems developed, the project soon suffered scientific disdain and public ridicule before these experiments were suspended in 1994. Since then, there have been no resident crews living inside Biosphere 2, and no future human habitation is planned.

Today, tours still go on at the Biosphere and visitors begin at the recently completed $10 million conference center. and now all visitors transition from the cliff above the one million gallon saltwater ocean through upper and lower savannahs, thorn scrub, desert and technosphere, then finishing inside the amazing south lung complex. Visitors then continue to the underwater ocean viewing gallery exhibit before returning to the starting point of their tour

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