More than two decades ago, eight people entered a sealed, self-sustaining glass enclosure near Oracle, Ariz., called Biosphere 2. For two years, the Biospherians, as they were called, lived almost exclusively off the complex’s various biomes — mini-ecosystems like savanna, rainforest and wetlands –— that represented various Earth climates.
Only energy and information were to be exchanged with the outside world. That included sunlight, electricity and communications with a support staff. Food was grown on site. Oxygen and carbon dioxide were regulated through photosynthesis. The goal: Show that future space colonists could survive and thrive in similar environments on deep space missions or planetary colonies.
It didn’t all go according to plan. Controversies ranging from supplemental oxygen to opened airlocks swirled around the original two missions. Today, most of the people inside the Biosphere at any given time are the photo-snapping tourists who stream through the biomes on a daily basis.
That doesn’t mean Biosphere 2 isn’t still in the business of cutting-edge scientific research. For instance, there’s the Landscape Evolution Observatory, a long-term experiment designed to investigate how our planet’s landscapes evolve over time. Another ongoing simulation is the model city project, which examines energy and water conservation.
But beneath the biomes, less has changed. The ghosts of researchers...