Biosphere Part I 
Author Message
 Biosphere Part I

Take This Terrarium and Shove It
by Marc Cooper
The Village Voice, April 2, 1991

ORACLE,  Arizona--  Twenty miles  north  of Tucson,  on  a spectacular
desert  site nestled  in  the  Catalina  mountains,  a  self-containcd
miniature Earth is about to be born. Just after passing the guard gate
on the 2500-acre  SunSpace Ranch, an  eye-popping glass terrarium  the
size  of three  football fields  glimmers  under the  desert sun.  The
air-tight,   waterproof  structure  of  Biosphere  2--  built  by  the
avant-garde  Pearce Systems--  is stunning  in its  scope  and beauty:
inside  and around  this  saguaro-ringed  Arizona  complex  there's  a
mounting anticipation, expectation, almost a fervor-- probably akin to
the frisson that permeated Alamogordo 45 years ago-- that all involved
are on the verge of something  Very Big. When the few remaining  glass
plates  are sealed in the coming  months, Biosphere 2 will become home
to an eight-person crew and 4,000 plant and animal species which-- cut
off  from the earth's atmosphere-- will  attempt to sustain themselves
for  two years.  Eventually, they  hope  to do  so for  as  much as  a
     I tingle  as I enter  this near-completed replicate world,  as if
I'd been transported onto the set of the cult classic  [ITALICS]Silent
In the  lush swaddle of  the tropical rain  forest "biome," a  fertile
humidity caresses  my lungs  and the gentle  babble of  the human-made
waterfall soothes  and calms. Above  me, a mechanical  cloud generator
spews  a white  puff that  gathers and  lingers underneath  the sylvan
canopy.  From  this,  the  highest  vantage  point  inside  the  human
aquarium, I can  see the four other  biomes-- a savanna, a  desert, an
ocean, a marsh--  stretched out below,  four complete ecosystems  each
simultaneously  autonomous and interdependent, each with a complex set
of tasks in achieving a bioiogical balance.
     From the rain forest, a  trail through a bamboo grove winds  down
past a lagoon,  over a Caribbean  c{*filter*}reef, and skirts  the "ocean,"
which is delicately stirred by a wave machine and teeming with fish. A
white  sand beach  against  a  grayish rock  cliff  seems lifted  from
     To the left and upward, African grasslands form a verdant savanna
(a  primary  source   of  oxygen),  which  eventually  yields  to  the
Biosphere's low point--  a cactus-studded desert much like  the one on
the other side of the glass. Beside the mosquelike structure that will
be living  quarters for the human crew,  "intensive agriculture" plots
will  serve  as  the  Biospherians'  breadbasket,  Organic  "soil  bed
reactors"-- composed  of plants and  special microbes-- are  to filter
out and absorb CO2. At the bottom  end of the intensive ag area, tanks
of tilapia fish will not only provide protein for the humans but their
waste will fertilize the adjacent rice  crops. Algae to feed the  fish
will be fertilized by recycled human waste.
     Conceived  as a  fusion of  earth sciences  and high  technology,
Biosphere 2's ba{*filter*}t-- the "Technosphere"-- is crammed  with tens of
millions of dollars in electronic and mechanical systems. As I descend
a  winding  staircase,  I  enter what  looks  like  the  innards of  a
battleship or,  better yet, a  submarine. Air movers and  filters hum,
mulchers and recyclers crunch and clang,  banks of computers, sensors,
and  monitors blink and  flash. On either  side of  the Biosphere, two
humongous "lungs"--  each the  size of a  high school  gymnasium, each
with an eight-ton {*filter*} diaphragm--  expand and contract as the glass
dome's interior temperature rises and falls.
     After  six  years  of  planning  and  construction  costing  $100
million--  provided by  Edward  Bass,  a  member of  America's  fourth
richest family--  and after more  than a year of  postponements of its
"launch date,"  the facility  is now  scheduled for  "final enclosure"
sometime this spring.  Some are comparing Biosphere 2  to a modern-day
Noah's  Ark. [ITALICS]Discover[italics] magazine calls it  "the most exciting
project to be undertaken in  the U.S. since President Kennedy launched
us  toward  the moon."  Established  as a  for-profit  venture capital
enterprise, the  Biosphere intends  to make  scientific history  while

making money. Its stated research goals-- in these ecologically minded
times-- are to teach us more  about the intricate interaction of  life
systems of our own world, how they can be protected and restored. And,
further, how we might extend life to other planets.
     "It  will teach  us  more about  our natural  world than  we have
learned in all  the time we have  worked as scientists on  the natural
world till now," says Dr. Walter Adey, whose Marine Systems Lab of the
Smithsonian Institution has  been contracted  as a  consultant by  the
Biosphere's parent company, Space Biospheres Venture (SBV).
     And the prestigious U.S. government-supported Smithsonian is  not
the  only institution to sign  on as enthusiastic project participants
and  boosters. The National Center for Atmospheric Research-- financed
by the National Science Foundation--  has expert monitors working in a
joint project  with Biosphere  personnel. As does  the Yale  School of
Forestry and Ecological Science.  The New York Botanical Gardens  also
has attached a  team of researchers. Dr. Ghillean  Prance, director of
the  Royal Botanic  Gardens at  Kew, England,  has been  contracted to
build the  simulated rain forest.  Specialists from the  University of
Arizona's Environmental Research  Laboratory (ERL) have  been employed
to work on intensive agriculture and carbon recycling systems. Experts
from Hawaii's Bishop Museum and  the U.S. Geological Society regularly
check in. Top researchers from NASA, frequently seen on site, maintain
"informal  liaison,"   and  participate  in  joint   conferences  with
Biosphere directors.
     And with  final enclosure  drawing near,  the Biosphere  site has
taken on much of the  pulsing buzz of a NASA launch--  in part because
the SBV company has intentionally  adopted a Space Age panache. Hence,
the terms "crew,"  "launch date," and the dubbing  of the computerized
command  center  as "Mission  Control."  The  crew,  led by  two  "co-
captains," strut  around in coral-red  nylon space suits  and matching
boots.  Dozens of SBV technicians and assistants pack state-of-the-art
two-way radios day and night.
     The  media coverage  has  become so  intense  that reporters  are
scheduled and packaged into convenient-to-handle bunches. Hosannas for
the Biosphere have poured in from not only the London
[ITALICS]Guardian[italics] and the
German [ITALICS]Geo[italics], but  also in long articles  in [ITALICS]The New
York  Times[italics] and the
[ITALICS]Times[italics] Sunday  magazine, the [ITALICS]Los  Angeles
Times[italics], [ITALICS]The Boston  Globe[italics], [ITALICS]the[italics]
[ITALICS]Washington  Post[italics], and dozens  of second- and  third-string
magazines such  as [ITALICS]Newsweek[italics], [ITALICS]Time[italics],  
[ITALICS]Omni[italics], and the  [ITALICS]National Geographic[italics]
[ITALICS]World[italics]; and  also and also broadcast pieces on ABC's
[ITALICS]World News Tonight[italics]
and [ITALICS]Prime  Time Live[italics].  Phil Donahue  went a  step further,
holding  an
hour-long live show from the experiment site, concluding the Biosphere
to be "one of the most ambitious man-made projects ever."
     On any given  day, the hundreds  of ticket holding  {*filter*}neckers
who ooh and aah through the Biosphere site on five daily tours have to
s{*filter*}it  out with intrusive  still and video photographers  trying to
get that perfect shot of the  orange sun melting behind the glistening
outline of the  steel and glazed-glass structure  manned by red-suited
     That the Biosphere  basks in all these  camera-friendly theatrics
is hardly an accident, Because in  all of this gee-whiz imagery of  an
ecologically balanced Earth-in-a-bottle, there's an ugly crack.
     Indeed,   the  group  that  built,  conceived,  and  directs  the
biosphere  project is  not a  group  of high-tech  researchers on  the
cutting edge  of science but  a claque of recycled  theater performers
that evolved out  of an authoritarian-- and  decidedly nonscientific--
personality cult.
     Based on dozens of interviews with current  and former associates
of both the Biosphere and the cult  behind it, the [ITALICS]Voice[italics]
has uncovered
how the core group of the Arizona project has little loyalty either to
honest and open scientific inquiry or to any ecological quest to  save
the Earth. Instead, its only  allegiance is pledged to one individual:
John P. Allen,  whose eerie doomsday dogma makes him much more the Jim
Jones than the Johnny Appleseed of the ecology movement.
     The mountains of cash  put at the disposal of the  group by Texas
millionaire and Allen follower Edward  P. Bass have served to exorcise

the  organization's  shadowy  cult-like  reputation,  allowing  it  to
achieve truly  dazzling levels  of respectability.  While the  media's
initial  uncritical response to  Biosphere may be  acceptable behavior
for an industry that thrives on systematically destroying credibility,
the same is  not true for the scientific  community. The participation
of  highly respected universities and scientific institutions (some of
them taxpayer-supported) and individual  scientists in this  project--
in exchange for research funding from the Biosphere group-- does raise
serious and  disturbing questions about  the ethical standards  of the
U.S  scientific community. In  short, the Biospherians  may be
science, but what they are [ITALICS]doing[italics] is more akin to
well-financed science

[BOLD]Prelude: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch[bold]

     By most press accounts, the Biosphere project sprung up,

read more »

Sun, 06 Feb 1994 06:51:32 GMT
 Biosphere Part I

Fri, 19 Jun 1992 00:00:00 GMT
 Biosphere Part I
If you have those other articles handy, would it be possible
to send them to me?  I'd really like a look at them, if it's
not too much trouble-


Jim Lane
Carnegie Mellon

Tue, 08 Feb 1994 02:40:21 GMT
 Biosphere Part I

> Brian:
> If you have those other articles handy, would it be possible
> to send them to me?  I'd really like a look at them, if it's
> not too much trouble-

> Thanks!

> Jim Lane
> Carnegie Mellon

        A few people have requested them-- I've got them in ASCII, so I'll
upload them here Real Soon.

Brian Siano,                                Delaware Valley Skeptics
Rev. Philosopher-King of The First Church of the Divine Otis Redding


Wed, 09 Feb 1994 05:54:30 GMT
 [ 4 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere Part II

2. Biosphere Part III

3. Biosphere Part IV

4. Biosphere Part V

5. Biosphere Part VI

6. Biosphere Articles Part 1

7. Biosphere Articles Part 3

8. Biosphere Articles Part 2

9. Biosphere Articles Part 5

10. Biosphere Articles Part 4

11. Biosphere Articles Part 6

12. Biosphere Articles Part 7

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