What Ever Happened To Biosphere 2?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

For anyone who attended 6th-grade science class between the years 1990 and 1994, they know what I’m referring to. Remember Biosphere 2, the self-contained space-colony-in-the-Arizona-desert experiment that seemed to be part of the requisite science class curriculum alongside rainforest degradation, saving sperm whales, and making model rockets?

For those of you not old enough to remember (or those old enough to have studied actual science in school), the Biosphere 2 was a massive human aquarium that “contained five distinct ecosystems, or ‘biomes’: A mangrove wetland, tropical rain forest, savanna grassland, coastal fog desert, and a 600,000-gallon ‘ocean’ with its own wave-lapped sand beach and living coral reef” (as well as giant “lungs” to compensate for the expansion and compression of air caused by massive temperature changes inside the enclosed structure).

Though the point of the whole thing seemed a little cloudy, Biosphere 2 was nominally created as a means for scientists to conduct experiments on the Earth in a closed environment, as well as to see whether such a system could be used for human colonization of space (which, given that humans hadn’t gotten past the moon in over 20 years at that point, seemed to be an extreme example of putting the cart before the horse, but I digress).

Despite igniting the imagination of millions and spawning a near theatrical classic entitled Bio-Dome (starring Stephen Baldwin and Pauly Shore and which, as pointed out on Wikipedia, currently has the distinction of the lowest aggregate score for a film currently included in the database of Metacritic), the Biosphere 2 ran into many problems (including ant infestations, oxygen deprivation, and even a kitchen-related knife accident), and shut its doors in 1994, just three years after the experiment began.

So what does one do with a giant glass-enclosed science experiment gone wrong sitting in the middle of the desert? Well, after being used as a research facility by Columbia University for over a decade, Biosphere 2 is now managed by the University of Arizona, and has grown to be one of the largest tourist attractions in southern Arizona, attracting over 100,000 visitors a year.

And as the 20th anniversary of its opening approaches, the human population has once again turned its attention to the Biosphere 2 and has been forced to ponder the fallacy of humankind and ask the eternal question of life, “Why was Pauly Shore allowed to make movies?”

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