Two Years And Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2

By Jane Poynter in Visions on November 13th, 2006 / No Comments

Biosphere 2Eight o’ clock in the morning on September 26, 1993. I stood in my prickly blue jumpsuit with the other seven inmates of the Bubble, as some of us liked to call it. We waited for the radio announcement that it was time to walk through the double-doored airlock, that the mission was finally over. I would like to say that I was pondering heady thoughts about the future of mankind, but all I could think of was how much I wished that dear Jane Goodall would shut up.

I have the deepest respect for my fellow countrywoman who has dedicated her life to the study and conservation of chimpanzees, taught us that apes use tools and laugh, too, and caused us to redefine what it is that makes us human. But as Jane gave the keynote speech leading to our re-entry into the world, into what we called Biosphere 1, the minutes ticked by with agonizing slowness.

“Come on, people,” I muttered to myself. “I signed up for two years—not two years and one minute, or two minutes. Only two years.”

Eight ten. “Jane, let us apes out of the cage!”

Eight fifteen.

Finally, some screeching over the radio told us to scurry to the heavy metal airlock fashioned out of submarine bulkheads years earlier. It was eight twenty. We stepped in, the door swinging closed behind us with the bang and scrape of the closure mechanism, and the outer door opened.

One by one, we stepped out of our simple life of milking goats and weeding the garden, of weather reports that included—along with temperature and humidity readings—the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. We left the daily struggle with tedium and discord, and stepped into applause, a trumpeted fanfare, cheering, a sea of cameras, backslaps, and handshakes.

For the first time in two years and twenty minutes, I inhaled the view of the bright desert sky with no white bars dissecting it into geometric patterns. The air seemed thin, insipid, not the thick atmosphere redolent with molecules from plants, fungi, animals—the pungent, pleasant, and unmistakable earthy fragrance of Biosphere 2.

Since September 26, 1991 the eight of us had risked much to live as if on Mars, farming all our food, recycling our water, our waste, and even the oxygen we breathed in our hermetically sealed 3.15-acre world. The rainforest, savannah, desert, ocean, and marsh had been our in-vitro test subjects for ecological research. But the glass and steel structure made a pressure cooker, our human foibles boiling to the surface in what some named the Human Experiment.

Now ten years have smoothed the searing anger I felt upon completing our mission. I can at last recall and assess the controversy and all that occurred in and around our New Age Garden of Eden, aided by the many people I have interviewed and the records I have read, with what approximates objectivity. I want to tell this extraordinary adventure tale of a colorful band of mavericks attempting what many said was impossible to set the record straight, to halt the maelstrom of misinformation that still swirls around the project.

Even now, when I open boxes containing books and clothing I had with me during my sojourn, the smell emanating from the brown cardboard transports me instantaneously back inside . . .

Jane Poynter shares her experience in her new book: The Human Experiment

About Biosphere 2
Biosphere 2 is a structure built to be an artificial closed ecological system in Oracle, Arizona (USA) by John Polk Allen, Space Biosphere Ventures and others. Constructed between 1987 and 1989, it was used to test if and how people could live and work in a closed biosphere, while carrying out scientific experiments. It explored the possible use of closed biospheres in space colonization, and also allowed the study and manipulation of a biosphere without harming Earth’s.

About Jane Poynter
Jane Poynter is one of only eight people ever in history to live sealed in an artificial world for two years. Jane’s preparation for Biosphere 2 involved training to survive in the Australian Outback and onboard a concrete research boat in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. She was part of the Biosphere from the start, ultimately managing the farm where the crew grew its food.

She is now President of Paragon Space Development Corporation, an aerospace firm that she co-founded with several engineers and fellow biospherian, Taber MacCallum, while inside Biosphere 2. Since leaving the project, Jane has had experiments flown on the International Space Station, the Russian Mir Space Station, and the U.S. Space Shuttle. Currently, she and Paragon are developing life support systems for astronauts and Navy deep-sea divers – and Jane recently started Yogi and Company, a multi-media production company.

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