4. Biosphere 2 Crew Prepares to Enter Earth’s Atmosphere After Two-Year Mission

(ORACLE, ARIZ) On September 26, 1993 the eight crew members of Biosphere 2 will step out into Earth’s atmosphere, completing their two-year mission inside the closed ecological life support system and research facility in the Catalina Mountain foothills north of Tucson.

The project was designed for three purposes: research, education, and the development of environmental technologies for use on Earth and in outer space.

Significant accomplishments have marked the initial two-year mission, including:

Biosphere 2 has sustained eight humans and some 3,800 species of plants and other animals in seven biomes with no major operational setbacks.

The four men and four women of the Biosphere 2 crew set a new record for living in a closed system by surpassing the previous record (six months) held by Russian researchers in the Bios-3 experiment.

Its annual air-leak rate of less than 10 percent (confirmed by outside consultants) is the lowest leak rate of any such structure ever built. (NASA’s closed-system facility at Kennedy Space Center leaks 10 percent a day). The tight seal enabled the detection of an oxygen decline which has led to significant research about oxygen cycles.

Despite two winters of record high rainfall and cloudy weather the crew produced approximately 80 percent of its food. The remaining approximately 20 percent was provided from seed stock and from crops grown and stored in Biosphere 2 prior to closure. The crops were produced without the use of toxic pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

The oceanic system inside Biosphere 2 is capable of sustaining a coral reef environment and has not suffered catastrophic losses which were predicted.

The low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet dramatically lowered the biospherians’ cholesterol levels. The diet had been studied in animals, but this was the first long-term study in humans. The eight crew members will leave in better health than when they entered.

The biospherians have recycled 100 percent of the human and domestic animal wastes, and 100 percent of the water in their environment.
The crew were selected as resourceful individuals with research and survival skills. They were the project’s front-line researchers and operators who worked on a daily basis with the Mission Control team, and more than 42 PhD. level scientists, and—since March, 1993—with Director of Research Dr. John B. Corliss.

Publication in peer reviewed journals of findings from Biosphere 2 research include: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December, 1992)- a human nutrition study by crew physician Dr. Roy Walford; Bioscience (April, 1993) – “Using a Closed Ecological System Earth’s Biosphere” by Mark Nelson, Tony Burgess, Abigail Alling and others. Other papers include Biosphere 2 Agriculture: Test bed for intensive, sustainable, non-polluting systems by Mark Nelson, Sally Silverstone and Jane Poynter, and Maintenance and Operational Support Characteristics of Biosphere 2 by William F. Dempster and Mark Van Thillo. Numerous other scientific papers are in review or being prepared for submission as this first mission ends.

The Biosphere 2 structure covers approximately 3.15 acres (1.28 hectares), the size of three football fields, and contains seven million cubic feet (204,000 cubic meters) in volume. Its glass and steel superstructure is designed to be leak-free, and its substructure is lined with up to four inches of stainless steel which was welded and tested for air tightness.

Biosphere 2 received the top Special Award in the 1992 Gold Nugget Awards competition sponsored by the Pacific Coast Builders Conference and Sun/Coast Architect/Builder Magazine. The Gold Nugget Awards are considered the most prestigious design awards in the nation.

In addition to engineering excellence, the architecture of Biosphere 2 exhibits what architect Phil Hawes and designer Margret Augustine term “synergetic” architecture, with various sections exhibiting diverse cultural references from Mayan pyramids to Middle Eastern wind towers in order to create a complete and harmonious design.

Human Biomes

The human habitat is a six-story, white domed section that includes apartments for resident researchers, laboratories, a computer center, communications and office space, workshops and a library. This portion of Biosphere 2 was designed to take on the ecological challenges of our cities. Domestic animals (African pygmy goats and hybrid chickens) are kept in a section of the human habitat. Next to the animal bay and immediately south of the human habitat, a series of arched vaults houses the intensive agriculture biome. Here, food crops are grown on broad terraces in 24,000 square feet of space (.55 acre or .22 hectare).

The Wilderness Biomes

The tropical rainforest biome occupies the tallest (approximately 91 feet or 23 meters high) section of Biosphere 2’s spaceframe structure. A stream cascades down the mountain in the rainforest’s center, through a flood plain on the forest floor and into Biosphere 2’s tropical savannah biome (atop rock cliffs beside the ocean). From there the stream travels down to the marsh biome both fresh and salt water, and then into the Biosphere 2 ocean biome. The ocean is 25 feet (8 meters) at its deepest and includes a Caribbean coral reef ecosystem at the northern end. Wave action, required for the coral reef ecology, is generated mechanically. At the southern end of Biosphere 2’s central section, a thornscrub forest completes the savannah biome and marks the ecotone (transition zone) between the savannah and desert biomes.

The Biosphere 2 Lungs

West and south of Biosphere 2 are two white geodesic dome structures, called “lungs,” connected by underground tunnels to the Biosphere 2 basement. The lungs are variable volume chambers able to expand and contract with shifts in atmospheric volume/pressure. Otherwise, the warming and expansion of air during the day could blow out glass panes or break the seals on Biosphere 2. The lungs’ total volume capacity is 1.7 million cubic feet (50,000 cubit meters).

Biosphere 2 Atmosphere and Water Recycling

The air is continuous throughout Biosphere 2. Air circulates among the wilderness biomes, human habitat and lungs.

“The achievements of the biospherians go beyond the application of state-of-the-art methods of sustainable agriculture. Biosphere 2 recreates in miniature the flows and balances that occur on Earth-but it moves through these cycles on ‘fast forward’. Carbon dioxide turnover on Earth takes about three years: in Biosphere 2 it takes about three days. On Earth it takes years or decades to see how changes inthe rainforest affect the growth of sorghum or sweet potatoes in another part of the world; in Biosphere 2 the impact may be seen in a matter of weeks. In Biosphere 2 agricultural materials such as crop nutrients and animal wastes recycle through the water and air systems in days as opposed to weeks or years on Earth. It is, in this sense, an ecological laboratory of incalculable value—the world’s largest test-tube. “

Dr. Richard Harwood, C. S. Mott Foundation Chair of Sustainable Agriculture Department of Crop & Soil Sciences at Michigan State University

Biosphere 2 is not large enough for weather processes to occur entirely naturally, as they do over large areas on Earth. Mechanical systems assist the heating, cooling, and air and water circulation. Water evaporation from the ocean is condensed for human drinking water and for return to the stream and rainforest. Human and animal wastes are treated in a combination microbial and intensive wetlands ecosystem. Water effluent is tested before returning to the irrigation system.

Space Biospheres Ventures

Space Biospheres Ventures (SBV) is a private ecological research firm formed to pioneer research in the field of biospherics, the study and construction of closed, self-regulating, self-sustaining, ecological systems. SBV was founded in 1984 by Edward P. Bass, Margret Augustine, Mark Nelson and John Allen.

SBV designed, built and operates Biosphere 2, the world’s largest and most complex closed ecological research facility. The project was organized as a private, venture capital endeavor to promote research and develop inventions and techniques with a wide range of applications from environmental engineering and clean-up to agriculture and life-support systems.

Future Missions

Following the September 26th re-entry of the crew into Earth’s atmosphere, Transition One begins. This period will last approximately five months. It will include intensive data collection, new research projects and modifications. Transition One will continue until the next crew enters Biosphere 2 to begin Mission Two, the next in a series of missions to take place throughout the projected 100 years of the experiment.

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