When Biosphere 2 Became a Grand Experiment in Self-Isolation

It was the ultimate experience of social distancing.

On September 26, 1991, four men and four women in dark blue coveralls said goodbye to friends, families and a bank of television cameras as they walked through an airtight door to embark on an unprecedented mission. Despite their Star Trek-style uniforms, the eight adventurers did not fly into space but isolated themselves from the outside world for two years inside Biosphere 2 – a three-acre glass and steel terrarium in Arizona. desert.

“The future is here!” said crew member Jane Poynter as she entered the $ 150 million planetary commune and ecological laboratory prototype that included 3,800 species of plants and animals and five miniature biomes – a rainforest, a ocean of coral reefs, a swamp, a savannah and a desert.

To test the human capacity to live in isolation in space, the eight “biospheres” hoped to be entirely self-sufficient by growing their own food and recycling all air, water and waste. While they could communicate with the outside world by email, phone and fax, for two years there would be no hugs with loved ones, no food delivery, not even toilet paper.

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