This is Biosphere 1:

Photo Credit:  The NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory.  

And this is Biosphere 2:

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia User Johndedios.  I want to go to there.

Biosphere 2 was an attempt by Space Biosphere Ventures (and the Institute for Ecotechnics) to develop an entirely closed, self-sustaining environment.  In 1991, 8 people went in, intending to stay inside for two years.  With the exception of one major injury, requiring medical intervention in the outside world, they succeeded -- despite declining oxygen levels and interpersonal conflict so severe that by the end of their mission, the group was barely on speaking terms.  The second mission lasted only a few months before members from the first crew returned to sabotage the biosphere.  In 1995, the $200 million building was sold to Columbia University, and then later ownership was transferred to the University of Arizona, where it serves as a research location and tourist attraction (which I hope to visit in a few months).

The biospherians themselves were a strange mixture of scientists and experimental theater performers, led by the charismatic John Allen and funded by billionaire (and, based on the design above, aspiring supervillain) Ed Bass.  I've just purchased Rebecca Reider's Dreaming the Biosphere, which I'll probably review here soon.  So stay posted if you'd like to know more.

Biosphere 2 is not the only attempt at a man-made closed ecological system:

  • BIOS-3 was a similar project in the Soviet Union, begun in 1973.  The longest mission inside was 180 days.  I haven't been able to find much information on it -- if anyone knows the story, please let me know.
  • The HI-SEAS project is an attempt to simulate life on Mars, in the habitat below.  The latest mission lasted a year and ended in August 2016, and was apparently extremely boring, with the exception of a breakdown in the water treatment system -- a disaster that could have killed everyone on the mission, or at least forced them to open the door.
(AFP Photo/Sian Proctor)  Are lovers of geodesic domes more likely than average to shut themselves away in an isolated habitat for years on end?

(AFP Photo/Sian Proctor)  Are lovers of geodesic domes more likely than average to shut themselves away in an isolated habitat for years on end?

  • There have been many attempts to create small closed ecological systems, including some by the original Biosphere 2 team.  Indeed, they created some while inside Biosphere 2 -- a biosphere in a biosphere in a biosphere.  These are now a pretty common elementary school activity, and some beautiful examples can be purchased on Amazon.  Here's a particularly entertaining 40-year-old example:

From the Daily Mail (ugh).  This man clearly loves his biosphere.

  • Biospheres are a staple in fiction.  The widely panned Bio-Dome, in which two idiots are trapped in a habitat clearly modeled after Biosphere 2, is an early example.  The Martian is a recent (and excellent) entry in the genre.

If anyone knows of other examples of closed ecological systems, especially ones in which people have lived (aside from e.g. spacecraft), I'd be thrilled to hear about them.