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  • Being in lockdown sucks.

  • Whether it's from house arrest or because of a global pandemic, being trapped inside

  • is never fun.

  • But at least you probably still had some access to conveniences.

  • Like if you wanted pizza for dinner, chances are you could make that happen.

  • Probably in 30 minutes or less even.

  • But what if you wanted pizza and knew that it would take four months to arrive?

  • That's how long it took when some crew members of Biosphere 2 had a hankering for pizza.

  • They spent four months growing a crop of wheat, which then had to be threshed and ground.

  • Tomatoes, peppers and onions had to grow and ripen.

  • Cheese made from goat's milk had to mature.

  • But that's what happens when you're living off the land, locked away in a science experiment

  • for two years.

  • Biosphere 2 was the brainchild of John Allen, a charismatic New Age visionary--aka a hippie

  • and Edward P. Bass, a Texas billionaire.

  • They wanted to create an airtight self-sustaining ecological system, as a way to explore the

  • viability of habitats to support human life in deep space missions or planetary colonies.

  • They named their project Biosphere 2, because earth is the first Biosphere, of course.

  • It took seven years between 1987 and 1991 to construct Biosphere 2.

  • The project, built in the Arizona desert, about 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Tucson,

  • was originally supposed to cost $30 million, but costs ballooned to around $150 million

  • before it was finished.

  • Admittedly it's a technological marvel, and is still impressive even today.

  • The sprawling 3.15 acre complex comprised mainly of glass and steel, is a miniature

  • world containing seven different biomes: a rainforest with a 25 foot waterfall, a fog

  • desert, an ocean with a coral reef, a mangrove swamp, a savannah grassland, and to support

  • the human inhabitants an agricultural system and human living spaces, complete with sleeping

  • quarters and workshops.

  • The complex was stocked with 3,000 species of plants and animals including chickens,

  • goats, bees and even some bush babies.

  • From the outside a 'Mission Control' team of experts could monitor the crew and Biosphere

  • 2 itself via sensors, phone and computer readings.

  • On the morning of Sept. 26, 1991, after a blessing and goodbye ceremony, the eight Biospherians,

  • four men and four women, locked themselves inside of Biosphere 2 with plans to stay in

  • without leaving for two years.

  • Problems started almost immediately.

  • Two weeks into the mission, crew member Jane Poynter got her hand caught in a rice thresher,

  • losing the tip of one of her middle fingers.

  • The resident doctor, Roy Walford, reattached it, but the graft didn't take.

  • Later he decided she needed to go to a hospital for more surgery.

  • After seeking medical treatment, Poynter returned to Biosphere 2.

  • When she reentered the airlock though, the press noticed something - she had a big duffel

  • bag with her that she didn't have when she left.

  • The media made much of this event--not only had a crew member left and reentered, but

  • they had brought back secret supplies with them.

  • This couldn't happen on Mars.

  • Poynter later clarified that the supplies were just extra computer parts and color film,

  • not some special food or an item the crew couldn't live without.

  • Much of the first year of the lockdown experiment, the ecosystem was in flux.

  • The coral reef rapidly became overgrown with algae.

  • Most of the hummingbirds and bees died, making farming even more labor intensive as the crew

  • had to pollinate by hand.

  • Also, nematode worms and broad mites attacked the crops.

  • A few species of cockroach had been brought into Biosphere 2 because they were good for

  • the soil.

  • Unfortunately, a common household cockroach hitched a ride in and not only dominated the

  • other species of cockroaches, but became a pest in the living quarters.

  • A bush baby in the rainforest biome got into the wiring and was electrocuted.

  • The weather was cloudy for the first few months of the mission and the light filtering through

  • the glass panes was dimmer than expected.

  • This killed off many of the fish and other marine life.

  • Even worse, the lack of sunlight stunted the crops.

  • The crew primarily ate vegetarian, growing 80 different crops such as kale, carrots,

  • peppers, beets, banana, and wheat--at one point they were eating so many sweet potatoes

  • that their skin picked up an orange hue.

  • They did have milk from the resident goats and the occasional egg from the chickens.

  • Meat was served maybe once a week.

  • For especially the first 6 months the crew had decent nutrition, but was underfed.

  • Daily caloric intake for crew members averaged 1,780 calories.

  • Not a lot when you're doing research, experiments, and performing manual farm labor.

  • The crew all lost between 10% to 20% of their body weight.

  • Ultimately, they had to break into a three-month supply of food that had been secretly stashed

  • away before the doors to the outside had closed.

  • As the Biospherians improved their farming techniques, food production rose.

  • By the second year the crew had upped their average daily calories to 2,300 and as a result,

  • they ended up regaining some of their lost weight.

  • The worst problem the Biospherians endured was oxygen deficiency.

  • A few months into the mission the crew began to notice that they would pant when climbing

  • the stairs or just from briskly walking the trails.

  • The level of oxygen in Biosphere 2 started out at about 21%, the same as the earth's

  • atmosphere.

  • However, by January of 1993, with about 9 months remaining for the experiment, the oxygen

  • had decreased to just 14.5%.-– the equivalent of living 12,000 feet (3660 meters) up a mountain.

  • The low oxygen made the crew lethargic and for months they struggled with sleep apnea

  • and had trouble getting proper rest.

  • Eventually Mission Control assessed the risk as being too high and a few months before

  • the experiment was slated to end, they started pumping in oxygen.

  • Later, scientists figured out that benign microbes in Biosphere 2's compost-rich soil

  • converted oxygen into carbon dioxide, which then reacted with the building's concrete

  • to form calcium carbonate and remove oxygen molecules from the atmosphere.

  • Morning glorys were planted to soak up carbon dioxide, but they exploded in number and choked

  • out other plants, including their food crops.

  • Crew members had to spend long hours weeding them to make sure they would have something

  • to eat.

  • A typical day for one of the crew might look like this: wake up, complete morning chores

  • such as milking the goats or picking ripe produce.

  • At 8am they would meet with the rest of the crew while eating breakfast, which was usually

  • porridge sweetened with banana.

  • The crew would discuss what everyone needed to do for the day.

  • Generally everyone would spend a few hours working the farm.

  • After that the crew would split up and everyone saw to their own area.

  • Crew members handled different areas such as water management or insects.

  • In the afternoon the crew might have a media interview via phone or uplink.

  • After dinner the crew often sat around talking and drinking homemade banana wine.

  • Some crew members would play instruments or talk with family over the phone.

  • On site there was a picture window with phones on either side so a Biospherian could have

  • a conversation and see their family at the same time, a setup not too different from

  • a prison visitation room.

  • Meanwhile, the media was very interested in the experiment.

  • Frequently there were cameras set up outside Biosphere 2.

  • The site also became a tourist destination in order to try and recoup some of the high

  • costs involved with running the complex.

  • Over a million tourists paid $9.95 for tours around the building and the ability to peer

  • into the terrarium to see the Biospherians at work There was even a gift shop with key

  • chains and t-shirt so you could prove that you visited Biosphere 2.

  • Between the visitors and school field trips, along with the food deprivation problem, the

  • cockroaches taking over and other annoyances, at times the crew felt like they were animals

  • in a zoo.

  • But we know there's still one big question you still have.

  • The media was obsessed with this topic too and asked this question a lot--Did the Bipsherians

  • have sex or did they spend 2 years going without?

  • The crew for the most part refused to talk about their sex lives.

  • However, one of them, Mark Nelson saidPeople are people, everything you might expect to

  • happen with people has happened in here.”

  • Take from that what you will.

  • Critics lambasted the Biosphere 2 project throughout the whole experiment, dismissing

  • it as more show business than science.

  • The criticism reached new heights when the media found out that external staff members

  • made several secret deliveries to Biosphere 2, providing seeds, vitamins, mouse traps

  • and other supplies.

  • Furthermore an ex-employee revealed to the public that engineers had installed a carbon

  • dioxide scrubber so that Biosphere 2's atmosphere could be better artificially managed.

  • With all the different pressures plus being stuck in one spot with only 8 people, arguments

  • were bound to happen.

  • Ultimately, the Biospherians split into two factions divided over differences of opinion

  • regarding their research goals.

  • Some crew members refused to speak to each other unless they absolutely had to; going

  • so far as to turn their face away when they met someone on a path.

  • Allegedly some crew members stole and hoarded food, refusing to share it with those they

  • considered traitors.

  • Later one of the crew members would claim that she was spat at twice.

  • Finally on Sept. 26, 1993 after 2 years, the 8 person crew emerged from the Biosphere,

  • thin but relatively healthy.

  • The doors had been opened 29 times during the experiment.

  • A second lockup with a different crew started in March of 1994, but was eventually abandoned

  • after 6 months due to management infighting about spending and authority.

  • Today, Biosphere 2 is a research station owned by the University of Arizona.

  • Researchers use it to study global environmental change, weathering, and the effect of drought

  • on rainforests, among other projects.

  • The Bispherians dispute the media's view that Biosphere 2 was a failed project.

  • The whole point was to test the possibility of human habitats.

  • Any perceived failings only gave scientists data for future use.

  • Also there were many small successes during the course of the experiment.

  • By the end of the first mission, the crew was able to produce 83% of their total diet,

  • including fodder for domestic animals.

  • Biosphere 2's farm recycled its nutrients and water, maintaining soil fertility without

  • chemical fertilizers or any toxic chemicals.

  • The crew also recycled their sewage, drinking the same water countless times, totally purified

  • by their plants, soil, atmosphere, and machines.

  • It wasn't until 18 years later, in 2009, that NASA announced total water recycling

  • on the International Space Station.

  • The Biospehrains also dispute the idea that there was a massive fish and coral die off,

  • pointing to surveys by coral reef scientists.

  • At the end of two years, only one coral species had been lost out of some four dozen and new

  • coral colonies were growing.

  • Biosphere 2 was the focus of many educational projects and inspired kids around the world.

  • It brought the term 'biosphere' into the mainstream.

  • It was also the main inspiration for a Pauly Shore movie and the world's first reality

  • TV show, Big Brother, which aired in the Netherlands in 1999.

  • So no matter what you think of it, it's hard to argue that Biosphere 2 was an ambitious

  • and unique experiment that was far ahead of its time.

  • We know you want to watch more videos!

  • Ever wonder what life would be like if you were a prisoner at Alcatraz?

  • Death by Polonium-210 or How Russia killed one of its spies.

Being in lockdown sucks.

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B2 biosphere crew experiment coral oxygen mission

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