The United States has been a fountainhead of natural and scientific discovery and innovation during its brief 230-year existence based largely upon immigrant stock. Just 50 short years after its inception, America saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution with the invention and widespread utilization of steam power.
The post-Civil War period brought on the revolution of petroleum and electric power and later, nuclear and computer power. More recently the harnessing of “clean” energy and the exploration of human survival on and off the planet go hand-in-hand with America’s leadership in scientific discovery.
Biopshere 2 in the desert north of Tucson is no exception to American ingenuity in collaboration with scientists from around the world. Where Biosphere 1 represents Mother Earth, Biosphere 2 is a separate, enclosed and sealed “world” on Planet Earth and a one-of-a-kind phenomenon existing nowhere else on this planet. And, it’s been open for public inspection for a number of years at a very reasonable admission charge.
Sitting on a 40-acre campus, the glass-enclosed facility covers 3.14 acres encompassing 7.2 million cubic feet of human habitat under 6,500 windows. Built in the late 1980s, the magnificent facility was designed as a research environment for self-sustaining space colonization.
In 1991 the first of two Human Missions began with eight scientists sealed inside for two years. Although there were some bumps in the road and very challenging moments, all eight occupants emerged in relative good health and good spirits proving that self-sustaining environments can maintain human life.
Today, Biosphere 2 is maintained and operated by the University of Arizona in Tucson and a must-see attraction that will keep visitors, young and old, enthralled for several hours. Self-guided and guided tours are available seven days a week and operated by plenty of knowledgeable staff. While the labs and classrooms continue to be used by students and scientists from around the world, the visitor will walk through mini-environments representing the ocean, desert, and rainforest as well as solar, water and life exhibits. A small movie theater, café and gift shop are on the premises.
The visitor can even go inside one of two “lungs” which control the air volume inside the massive facility by way of 16-ton aluminum diaphragms which raise and lower at will. The 91-foot tall environment is sealed from the earth below by a 500-ton welded stainless steel liner. Visitors can go below ground to view the intricate sub-structure of wiring, pipes, ductwork, and pumping stations.
Biosphere 2, recently featured on National Public Radio’s TED Radio Hour hosted by Guy Raz, is highlighted in a fascinating video talk by Jane Poynter, one of the scientists who lived inside Biosphere 2 for two years. (ted.com/talks/jane_poynter_life_in_biosphere_2.html)
If one is planning a visit or if one is just curious about learning more, go to: b2science.org. The Grand Canyon is one of the greatest natural wonders and Biosphere 2 is one of the greatest human-engineered wonders. Both are located in Arizona.