Biosphere 2, that famous research boondoggle, has entered a new stage in its lifecycle: condo and ranchette proliferation.
In the early nineties, Biosphere made headlines when eight ‘bionauts’ were sealed into the air-tight terrarium as part of a two-year experiment in self-sufficiency. The experiment was intended to determine whether and how humans could survive in constructed closed systems–potentially as a means of colonizing hostile environments, like space.
In practice, Biosphere had flaws that fatally wounded its research credibility. The terrarium continually lost atmospheric oxygen, requiring two injections of O2 over the duration of the experiment in order to keep it habitable to humans. A few crops did grow well inside the biosphere, including bananas and sweet potatoes, but the bionauts were unable to grow enough food to support their foraging and farming existence, and reported continual hunger.
A second Biosphere mission in 1994 fell prey to management disputes, ending when two of the bionauts deliberately sabotaged the project.
Since 1996, Biosphere 2 has essentially limped along as a semester-abroad program and, more recently, a tourist attraction.
Biosphere folks maintain that the Biosphere will remain open for tours even under new ownership. According to the Associted Press, however, at least some of its scientific aspirations may be salvaged in the deal: the University of Arizona hopes to lease the terrarium itself for large-scale climate experiments.