Why Biosphere II?

Ever since Galileo and Copernicus overthrew the geocentric view of the universe, humans have dreamed of expanding our population beyond the boundaries of planet Earth. Science fiction novels, such as the popular Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, outline the possible forms such expansion might take. Artists depict human habitations on other worlds, and the space program works to make such dreams a reality. Why are people so fascinated by this theoretical conquest of outer space? Perhaps, like Mount Everest, our answer is simply that "it's there". Or perhaps, as we begin to more fully understand the destruction our species has been wreaking on Biosphere I, this hope of being able to live elsewhere seems more and more like a necessity.

How Biosphere Would Look on Mars?

mars and biosphere
Images courtesy of Biospherics and NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

When the idea of building Biosphere II was first presented to the public, the media greatly emphasized the project's potential ramifications for colonizing Mars or the Moon. If a self-sustaining ecosystem could be created to support humans on Earth, why couldn't one be built on another planet? These ideas struck the public imagination and drew considerable interest. Even the name of Space Biosphere Ventures, which was the private company that designed and built Biosphere II, played on this media hype. However, the scientific community remained skeptical that Biosphere II would lead to colonies on Mars any time soon.

Perhaps a more important and realistic goal of Biosphere II involved the study of ecosystems as they already exist in Biosphere I. A key factor in any scientific experiment is the ability to control all of the relevant factors. Biosphere II, because it is a closed system, allows more control than ecologists could ever have in the "real world". Even after the initial failure of Biosphere II's "mission", this research aspect of its intended use has continued today. Columbia University now owns the facility, which it uses to conduct a variety of studies, particularly ones related to the carbon dioxide cycle. Public tours are also available, and students of all ages visit Biosphere II regularly.

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