On 26 September 1993, four women and four men smartly dressed in navy blue overalls, walked out through the airlock of Biosphere 2 to breath the planet’s natural air for the first time in two years.
Thus ended a bold experiment in the Arizona desert to test ecological systems in an airtight greenhouse-like building, as a precursor for future trips to Mars. NASA described this as the most important closed-systems project ever conducted and the world took note of the dedicated work of the Institute of Ecotechnics. Many were influenced including Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project. Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle were on hand to welcome the team back to ‘Biosphere 1’, planet Earth.
Colleague Mark Nelson was one of the remarkable ‘multi-disciplinary’ crew, who exited that day. His account, Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2, described the challenges to recycle air and water, manage the carbon, grow food, develop natural savannah, desert, rainforest, mangrove and coral reef ecosystems, live together for prolonged periods and most importantly be the first to explore how our world operates as a self-regulating planet. Now, 25 years later, he reflects on the traumatic and joyful experiences of living in this microcosm, drawing conclusions from the impact of the project, past present and future.
Today the magnificent structure of Biosphere 2 is managed by the University of Arizona, attracting international scientists and tourists in equal measure. Life-support research for space and a ‘wake-up’ call inspiring young planetary caretakers is the legacy. For those who wish to understand B2’s history and the impact it had on those involved, I commend Mark’s candid account. Nelson, a passionate active ecologist and now Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics, speaks with the same courage I recall when he delivered his lecture at the RGS in 1994. In short we are all ‘biospherians’ and must take adaptive precautions to look after Biosphere 1. And the wake-up call? We do not have a second chance, should we empty nature’s pantry or continue to tinker with the chemistry and ecology of our own beautiful Spaceship Earth.