Life in Biosphere 2

Several years ago, I was at a going away party for Bruno. Bruno was a hard core scientist who was being brought into the Biosphere project down in Arizona to get it straightened out after a long period of bad press.

One of the folks at the party was an archaeology graduate student, Ben, who had a very dry sense of humor. As Ben was leaving that evening, he turned to Bruno to wish him well.

"Bruno, see you around! And good luck with the terrarium!"


Sorry, that's my only Biosphere story. Here's a Ted Talk on it:

Jane Poynter tells her story of living two years and 20 minutes in Biosphere 2 -- an experience that provoked her to explore how we might sustain life in the harshest of environments. This is the first TED talk drawn from an independently organized TEDx event, held at the University of Southern California.

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I remember following the Biosphere 2 project and the disappointment at the problems. They made two basic mistakes that she identified, that really should have been thought through better. The compost and the concrete.

First the concrete. Any civil or structural engineer could have told them that the concrete would absorb CO2 during the time it is curing, which is probably decades. They should have at least had some quantification of how much their concrete would absorb CO2. This would have been fairly easily mitigated by sealing the concrete, ie a few hundred gallons of Thompson's or sodium silicate, or something like it.

The compost. I know its all touchy feely and good gardening practice to use lots of compost, but say your building a Martian habitat out of metal you refine up there, and glass and concrete you make from native minerals and earth err, Mars. Where does one get compost? You don't. The first Martian habitats are going to have to grow the first crops out of the 100% mineral soil. It can be done, that's what hydroponics are. They shouldn't have used any compost.
They would start making compost from the waste biomass after things were going for a while. Then the food would start tasting better, but you can certain live on hydroponic food for a while, a year or so. I think they let the horticulturists have too much say, and the astronauts not enough. If they'd have done these two things, the project would have been much more successful. I know, easy to say in hindsight.

By chuckgoecke (not verified) on 03 Jul 2009 #permalink