Day 26
February 17, 2006

Biosphere 2, AZ

Biosphere 2, AZ

No Captions

First stop this morning: Biosphere 2, near Oracle, AZ, but actually just in the middle of nowhere. I drive to the gate, but they donít open until 9. Shoot, itís only 7:45. What to do, what to doÖIím here, so I might as well wait and see. I listen to Eckhart while I eat whole wheat ritz crackers for breakfast, then read plant propagation for a while.

Admission is a bit pricey, but the guided tours inside the Biosphere are included in the price. Iím here, might as well pay. I think itíll be worth it, too. In 9th grade, I did a long report and a web page about Biosphere 2 for my biology project. I hadnít known about Biosphere 2 before then; it was just listed as one of the approved topics, and when I googled it, I thought it looked to make an interesting project.

Biosphere 2 was built in the late 1980s, and financed by an eccentric Texas billionaire named Edward Bass. The stated goal of the Biosphere 2 project (Biosphere 1 being the Earth) was to build a self-sustaining system, where humans could live for a potentially indefinite period of time by growing their own food, with plant photosynthesizing to recycle the air. Why? Because space is so vast that, if humans are ever to travel beyond our solar system, we will probably need to live in a self-sustaining system rather than bringing all our food with us. While the stated goal sounds cool, and the functioning 3.15 acre glass-enclosed, airtight system with thousands of species of living organisms is one of the engineering wonders of the world, the legitimacy of the project was soon called into question. There were stories that Bass was influenced by a doomsday cult to start the project, and facts, like how the group in charge of Biosphere 2 published all their ďscienceĒ independently, rather than submitting it to scientific journals for independent review or evaluation. From 1991 to 1993, the 8 biospherians in goofy blue jumpsuits successfully lived inside Biosphere 2, although there was one period where oxygen was pumped into the Biosphere because an imbalance in the numbers of soil bacteria caused CO2 levels to gradually rise too high. From what Iíve read, I thought the work done in Biosphere 2 was a huge success, and itís really a shame that the people involved in the project didnít take the relatively simple steps to make it more legitimate in the eyes of the scientific community.

Our guide this morning is a hard-boiled guy who is a former professor at Columbia University, or maybe he still teaches half the year, I didnít catch that part. He wasnít the most personable guy, and when I asked him why Edward Bass didnít donate the project to NASA or someone rather than putting it up for sale like it is now, he just grumbled, ďI donít know Bassís motivation.Ē Sheesh. The Biosphere is still alive and healthy, for the most part, but there are already signs of age on the paint of some of the structural supports. After the first semi-successful Biosphere Project, a second group of Biospherians entered in 1994, but they werenít really doing anything new so Bass called off the project and transferred management to Columbia University two years later. Columbia managed it until 2003, but then they decided they didnít really want it any more either, and it has been on the market for $150 million dollars ever since, with no function besides a tourist attraction. It made me sad.

I stuck around and listened to the next guide for a little while, who was like the polar opposite of the one in my group. He was animated, answered about a dozen questions, and then led the group into the Biosphere. I enjoyed listening to little intro lecture, but Iíd already walked inside, so I decided to head on north towards the Mazatzal Wilderness and Petrified Forest National Park.

After about an hour of driving, I found a scenic overlook, and was in the midst of throwing away my garbage when the wind caught hold of one of my plastic Wal-Mart bags. Not wanting to litter, I sprinted after it, and as I put my foot down on it to keep it from blowing any further, the gravel slid out from under my foot as I crashed in a heap. ďThat was graceful,Ē I said out loud, holding my throbbing right knee. Just great. Iíve bruised myself up all over a Wal-Mart bag.

Continue to Tonto National Monument ->

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