In 1987, inspired (unsurprisingly) by the facilities of science fiction movies, a company called Space Biosphere Ventures, spearheaded by a group of scientists, began building an artificial, sealed ecosystem in the Arizona desert, a grand $200M experiment that was supposed to be a step toward founding colonies in space. With roughly two and a half football fields' worth of square footage, Biosphere 2, recently spotlighted over at Gizmodo, became world's largest closed ecosystem. Included: a 20,000-square-foot rainforest, a 9,000-square-foot ocean (plus coral reef!), grasslands, mangrove wetlands, and 27,000 square feet in farmland. Beginning in 1991, eight scientists were sealed in, set out to prove that it was possible to sustain life in a bubble. Yeah, that didn't really work out.
Turns out being locked in somewhere with just seven people is not exactly conducive to kumbayas and peace gardens. "The media expectations were really high, and it was, to a large extent, our fault because we had promoted the idea that we were going to go in and it was going to [finger quotes] 'work,'" Linda Leigh, one of the scientists, says in a mini documentary by The Avant Garde Diaries, an online magazine that features interviews with all manner of interesting people. "There were some mean times. People did not talk to each other; it very much was a split of two groups."
Then they started running out of things that are, you know, kind of important, like oxygen: "Most of us were hungry most of the time. It was difficult to walk up steps without having to take a deep breath," Leigh says. Carbon dioxide levels rose and they had to pump oxygen in. "We said we were not going to do that. So in that sense it was a failure."
So what's up Biosphere 2 nowadays? Well, the University of Arizona uses it as an ecological lab, having bought it in 2007 amid fears that the grand, glassy building would be razed and developed into strip housing. And while humandkind isn't any closer to living on the Enterprise because of it—though there are real estate opportunities on the moon—Biosphere 2 is still an architectural feat, not to mention still fascinating, all these years later. Check out the mini-doc: