Biosphere 2: What Went Wrong and Why

Whenever the subject of colonizing places like Mars comes up, people always point to Biosphere 2 and state, “Well, that proves we don’t know what the hell we’re doing, so there’s no way it could ever work on Mars!” I knew that there was an article written by one of the scientists involved with the project that had a detailed explaination of what was wrong with the design, and how with a few changes it could have worked. I found the magazine, did some digging on the net, and found the complete article on line.

The article points out that the location and the design of Biosphere 2 pretty much doomed it.

I also recall, back in the days when they were building it, that at least one of the major backers stated that he didn’t expect a roaring success of it, and they he thought we’d learn more from failures and what didn’t work than anything else.

And we did learn some things NOT to do.

Yeah, like: Make sure you don’t let Pauly Shore get in. :stuck_out_tongue:

Since that article is nearly 10 years old now, I’ll point out that Columbia University no longer runs the place. They let it go in 2003 when their lease was up, since it was never successful enough as an “Earth science campus” to cover the costs of running the place. A bunch of investors are now trying to make a go of the place as a tourist attraction/conference center/research facilty/etc.

Biosphere 2

You know it’s bad when the OP states “glass” as a problem . . . twice.

Give me a TEMPER Tent, and I’ll colonize anything you friggin’ want. See, the only problem with Biosphere II is that the inhabitant lacked guts. John Wayne would have laughed at their asses. Apparently, they couldn’t adapt and overcome, and thus, it wasn’t a real simulation. “Oh shoot, we can’t clean the windows! Pause the exercise!!” :rolleyes:

Those pansies.

A TEMPER Tent. (The only picture I could find)

Huh? How are you going to grow food and create oxygen in a tent?

They made a sequel of that turd?!

Seems to me it wasn’t a failure at all. We learned some valuable stuff we might not have otherwise.

Don’t build it out of uncured concrete, or at least seal the stuff.

Don’t put a lot of organic material into your soil at the outset. Add it gradually, like nature does.

What else?

Lack of light. Not a problem in space, and I imagine not a problem on Mars. Maybe there’s some dust, but probably not a big deal to brush off.

Don’t let ants in. Can’t imagine that’s a problem in space or on Mars. If critters are a problem on Mars, I think it would be worth the unfortunate sacrifice of our colonists to find out.

Ooookay, I could probably have phrased that better.

Not advocatin’ the sacrifice of our colonists! I’d just love to find life on Mars.

Problem on Mars. Mars does received significantly less solar energy than Earth.

And the “dust” on Mars isn’t like the grit we have on Earth. It’s more like really, really fine talcum powder. It may be a problem with getting into every tiniest crack and crevice, and is so small it may pose a breathing hazard if our lungs - evolved to deal with weightier particles - can clean it out efficienly

Of course, Mars has significantly fewer clouds than Earth, and a slightly longer day, as well.

Oh, the hours per day of sunshine might be greater than almost anywhere outsid the Sahara or Antartic Summer, but quality and intensity are much less than on Earth. Fewer photons per square foot and all that. It doesn’t rule out solar power, but you will need a larger array to achieve the same level of electrical energy

What I meant was that the light Mars receives is a known quantity so we could adjust for it. AFAIK, Mars doesn’t have cloudy periods, which is what happened to Bioshere 2. Didn’t the year they started the experiment turn out to be one of the most cloudy years on record or something?

Doesn’t Mars receive a dangerous level of radiation? Would a permanent Mars habitat even be made of transparent material?

Well I for one welcome our ant overlords…

You can engineer materials that are transparent to visible wavelengths, but block UV and cosmic rays. But it’s expensive. I’d guess that early habitats on Mars won’t be on the surface at all, but built underneath the ground. This blocks the radiation, the dust, and may even help seal in a breathable amosphere. Of course, then you couldn’t use the sun for growing at all…

From my very experienced based knowledge of greenhouse growing, the worst problem is that, with optimal growing conditions, the bugs come in, too. This is a pain, but can be resolved with relatively benign solutions, albeit some buggy leafs.

My question; Tuckerfan, what was the problem w/ Biosphere. Unwashed windows? That just sounds supremely lazy, as far as any Earthly horticulturist’s life goes .


I don’t know specifically. but judging from this picture of the inside, and this picture (warning it’s a big pic) of the outside, I’d say that it wouldn’t be an easy task to clean the windows. Which goes back to the article’s point that it was a bad design.

I’d heard that the problem was runaway bacterial/fungal/algal growth in the sealed environment.

That’s part of it as the author points out here:

The author talks about the problem here:

But again, this wouldn’t be a problem in space or on the moon or Mars, since there’s no water, algae or bacteria to grow, at least on the outsides of the glass.