17 years ago, September 26, 1991, 8 brave souls locked themselves inside a sealed dome to simulate what it would be like to live in an artificial closed ecological system.

It was called Biosphere 2 (the original 'biosphere' being Ma Earth here) and was made in Oracle, Arizona by Space Biosphere Ventures.

The idea was to learn about ecology but it ended up being about anthropology as well - as fellow Scientific Blogging scribe Jane Poynter says, they discovered that even in tiny groups, and much as they might have protested the notion in advance, they broke into factions.

Who would choose to live inside a sealed dome the size of two football fields for two years and try to survive? Well, anyone I know, actually. Poynter and those others are basically rock stars in the science community for not just doing an experiment but for being one.

Did it go well? No, it went quite badly. If you want to know all the details, get thee to Amazon and buy her book:

Slow suffocation, malnutrition, rancor - it's like being forced to watch a "Dynasty" DVD box set.

What did we learn? That, as Howard Bloom, puts it, Mother Nature is vicious. We can't just set up an ecosystem somewhere else and have it work perfectly. That's all the more reason to protect Biosphere 1 (that would be Earth, if you skipped my introduction) and take better care of the perfectly functioning ecosystem that's already here.

Jane didn't do it alone, of course - she was joined by Roy Walford, Taber MacCallum, Mark Nelson, Sally Silverstone, Abigail Alling, Mark Van Thillo and Linda Leigh - she just happens to be the most awesome of the group.

There was also a follow-up mission to Biosphere 2 in 1994. If slow atrophy would be watching that 'Dynasty' box set the 1994 group just plain lived various episodes of the show - vandalism, marriage, financial skullduggery, you name it, it happened, and that mission ended a few short months later.

Can't get enough Biosphere stuff today and already have her book?

You can rent the Pauly Shore movie Bio-Dome, though that is worse than watching Dynasty.

You can also read Biosphere 2: Research Past and Present by B.D.V. Marino and Howard T. Odum.

You can even check out the patent for the nifty engineering miracle of the 'lungs' that accomplished the pressure balancing in their closed ecological system; or you can just go to Wikipedia where they probably have all that stuff in one place.


Then and now.

Thanks, Jane!