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Planet Earth

Biosphere 2 Has a New Mission

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorApril 28, 2011 5:08 PM

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Ever wondered what came of this famous science experiment in the Arizona desert? As Allen Breed in an AP story this week recalls,

Jane Poynter and seven compatriots agreed to spend two years sealed inside a 3-acre terrarium in the Sonoran Desert. Their mission back in the 1990s: To see whether humans might someday be able to create self-sustaining colonies in outer space.

It didn't work out so good for the inhabitants. Here's the short version:

during the first two-year mission that began in 1991, the Biosphere was beset by one problem after another: Oxygen dwindled, and the sea became acidic. Crops failed, causing the bionauts to lose weight rapidly, while ants and other insects thrived.

Poynter wrote a book about her experience. You can also watch her on this three-minute video describe what happens when people don't have enough food to eat. But enough about the humans. What happened to the actual Biosphere? In his AP story, Breed writes:

Two decades later, the only creatures inhabiting Biosphere 2 are cockroaches, nematodes, snails, crazy ants and assorted fish. Scientists are still using the 7.2-million-square-foot facility, only now the focus is figuring out how we'll survive on our own warming planet.

The new reconstituted plans for the enclosed Biosphere will not simulate reality again, though, and involve humans as part of the experiment. Here's a nice talk by Poynter about both the original scientific goals and the personal ordeal.

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