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Biosphere 2, Part 1

Just north of Tucson, on land that was formerly a ranch, sits a unique Earth systems science research facility called Biosphere 2. The name is derived from Biosphere 1 — the Earth. The initial mission was to provide a completely enclosed habitat which would sustain a crew of humans with absolutely no provisions provided from outside — in a way, a simulation of what a trip to Mars would require. The view in this photo, along the path leading to the tour starting point, shows the beautiful surrounding countryside and a few support buildings. The facility was threatened with being bulldozed because of the challenges in operating it but currently the University of Arizona is in charge — doing ongoing biological experiments which can only be done in a facility this size.

Biosphere 2, in some ways, resembles a giant greenhouse. This stair-step, truncated pyramid actually encloses the tropical rainforest. On close examination, you will note that all that dark green stuff under the glass is actually living plants.

Continuing along the path to the tour starting point, we encounter a nice view of the crew living quarters and the "West Lung" — more on both buildings shortly.

Another view of the exterior of the tropical rainforest — one that is a good appetizer for the tour which is about to begin.

A closer view of the crew living quarters. The first mission consisted of eight members who were sealed into Biosphere 2 for two years. When you enter the door (slightly to the left of center) you note that it looks like a hatch on a submarine which must be completely sealed — and, in fact, the crew was sealed in.

The loft area above was a favorite meeting place for the crew — and they usually would share one meal a day up there. The view was quite nice and, psychologically, it put a small distance between themselves and the hardship they endured in the rest of the facility.

The first area toured is the tropical rainforest. It is warm, it is misty. The only thing lacking is the call of the wild animals that inhabit most rainforests.

There are spots along the path that really do take you to Brazil (which is the rainforest the planners attempted to copy).

On my initial glance, I thought the bright orange thing might be a snake — but it was actually just a brightly colored hose. Observing more closely, I realized this was a small maintenance cutout — which then made me think of Disneyland and the way maintenance facilities are hidden so that guests normally do not notice them.

It is hard to feel the immense size of this building without being there — the photos just do not convey the right feeling. However, with a size comparable to two and a half football fields, it remains the largest closed system ever created.

There are multiple areas that they call "biomes" like the tropical rainforest pictured above and the ocean shown here. I visited Biosphere 2 about 15 years ago and at that time the ocean seemed to be a bit more "oceany" (to coin a word). It now looks more like an algae-filled pond.

One thing I noticed both now and 15 years ago — no beach and no waves. But at least there is a boat in his photograph to give you a size perspective.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com