Edward Bass, businessman and billionaire philanthropist from Texas, has always lived in fear of apocalypse. So it comes as no surprise that he and his friend John Allen, a systems ecologist, came up with the idea to create a closed ecological system to hide from the nuclear war.
Its construction started in Oracle, Arizona, in 1987. On an area of about 4 square miles a glass and concrete bunker was erected worth a whopping $150 million. Named Biosphere 2 after the Earth which is also known as Biosphere 1, its construction was headed by ecologist and engineer John Allen.
Allen created a complex facility that included the system of air and water purification and a power plant. Biosphere 2 featured a tropical forest, ocean, desert, mangrove, savannah, pond, fields, and vegetable gardens, near which there were residential areas.
Besides eight volunteers, four men and four women, living in the building, there were several goats; 35 hens and three roosters; two sows and one boar; tilapia fish grown in a rice, and azolla pond system.
The colonists, who became known as econauts (bionauts, biospherians) had to live in the facility for two years off-grid recycling their own waste. Among them there were a doctor, an agronomist, an oceanologist and an ecologist. Two of them were a couple, bride and groom, and when the experiment was over, they married.
On September 26, 1991 the volunteers entered the facility to spend there two years. Two weeks later, the experiment was compromised when the woman in charge of the farm, Jane Poynter, was injured when the rice flaking machine chopped off part of her finger.
Jane was evacuated from the "bunker." She had the chopped part of her finger reattached and was immediately returned to the facility.
Soon it turned out that the project was a failure. The bionauts harvested a frail crop, they were starving. The fish in the pond died, people ate meat once a week.
But the biggest challenge for them was the lack of oxygen: after six months, its amount under the dome became critical, having decreased by a third, which affected the health of the biospherians.
It was difficult for them to walk, work, and even think, they became irritable and aggressive. The whole ecosystem was falling apart: corals died in the "ocean," birds passed away, goats gave no milk, but insects such as cockroaches and ants multiplied, filling all biological niches and destroying scarce human supplies.
The organizers had to supply the dome with additional oxygen.
In September 1993, two years after the experiment was launched, the doors of Biosphere 2 were finally opened. Of all the biospherians, only Jane Poynter gave an interview while the others wouldn't.
However, all of them later wrote books about their life in Biosphere 2. Taber McCullough and Jane Poynter even set up a company manufacturing ... pocket biospheres!
Today, Biosphere 2, dubbed the ultimate failure of the century, has been donated to the University of Arizona. Now everyone can go there on a tour.
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