10 Insane Facts About Biosphere 2, The Largest Contained Experiment Ever

Nowadays, the ambitious and wild Biosphere 2 experiment is only remembered as a footnote to the Pauly Shore film Bio-Dome, which is a shame. The Biosphere 2 project was ambitious, idealistic, and apocalyptic; it was some pretty crazy science wrought with drama, intrigue, cults, and billionaires. There are many wild Biosphere 2 stories as a testament to this fact. In short, its movie should have been a David Fincher thriller instead of a low-budget comedy.

The Biosphere 2 experiment was a closed artificial ecological system. It was three acres and five ecosystems - ocean, rainforest, desert, mangrove wetlands, and savannah grasslands - the world's largest formal experiment. The plan for Biosphere 2 was to test human interaction with the environment by sealing eight people in the closed Biosphere for two years, from September 26, 1991 to September 26, 1993. Wearing outfits designed by Marilyn Monroe's former dressmaker, the participants - called Bionauts - stepped into the closed ecosystem where they would be closely monitored by Mission Control. The whole project was undertaken in the hopes of proving biomes were sustainable environments that could potentially lead to Martian colonization. Read on to discover some crazy things you didn't know about Biosphere 2.


  • Biosphere 2's Origins Begin With A Cult Leader
    Photo: Wangola / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Biosphere 2's Origins Begin With A Cult Leader

    The Biosphere 2 project has some bizarre, secret cult origins. T.C. Boyle's 2016 novel The Terranauts (which is loosely based around the Biosphere 2 experiment) omitted them because they're actually kind of unbelievable. Yet, it happened. In the words of Bad Religion, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

    A fellow by the name of Johnny Dolphin was the primary architect and creator of the Biosphere 2 project. He was not born Johnny Dolphin, however. He began his life as John P. Allen.  

    John P. Allen was a noted metallurgist who dabbled in theater. He worked in Arizona with the avante garde theater group Caravan Of Dreams. The troupe evolved into a small following.  Depending on who you ask, it then morphed into an apocalyptic doomsday cult. At this point, Allen began penning books under the pseudonym Johnny Dolphin. Dolphin believed the solution to Earth's impending doom was space exploration and Martian colonization. As luck would have it, the original inhabitants of the Biosphere 2 were members of the Caravan of Dreams. All involved hoped the Biosphere 2 would lead to similar projects on Mars.

  • One Bionaut Sliced Off Her Own Finger

    She broke the glass seal, that is. One of the key components of the experiment was complete self-sufficiency. Nothing could enter or exit the sealed Biosphere. However, after eight months of being inside, Bionaut Jane Poynter cut off the tip of her finger in a cooking accident. The Medical Officer sewed the tip back on, but it didn't take - it shriveled up and turned black within days. Mission Control decided to remove her to receive medical attention. From there, things only got worse for the mission. Poynter returned with two duffel bags, stuffed with unknown goodies and tools. To this day, their contents are still unknown. As a result, many have questioned the credibility of the entire experiment.

  • Steve Bannon Caused A Mutiny

    Every good thriller has a twist. The biggest twist in the tale of Biosphere 2 is that the Caravan of Dreams was basically harmless. However, Steve Bannon, the man who seized power of the grand experiment, was not. 

    Most known as Donald Trump's Chief Strategist, Bannon also founded the alt-right news site Breitbart. But back in the early '90s, he ran the investment firm Bannon & Co. in Beverly Hills, CA. Bannon & Co. took over the Biosphere 2 project when its funds dried up. The original eight Bionauts had completed their 2 years inside and a new crew resided within. At the time, Earth sciences interested Bannon, so he shifted the project's focus from the human element to mineral and environmental studies. Because of Bannon's lack of concern for the human participants, Bionauts from the previous crew feared for the lives of those inside. They took action, breaking through the Biosphere defenses in three separate places in April of 1994. The crew was warned, but the project was ruined. 

    Nobody attempted to live in the Biosphere again, and the project never recovered.  

  • Engineers Secretly Scrubbed The Air

    One of the primary goals of Biosphere 2 was to create a self-sustaining atmosphere. The rainforest would clean the air of harmful carbon dioxide gasses, and the trees would release oxygen back into the atmosphere. However, it remains a mystery whether or not the Biosphere was truly self-sustaining. Scientists snuck in a massive carbon dioxide scrubber in case the gas reached dangerous levels. Engineers designed the scrubbers for submarines to keep the sailors breathing clean air. They provided the same service for the Bionauts. Unfortunately, they were in constant operation, leaving the entire project a bust, since the whole purpose of the project was to gage the necessary conditions for self-sustaining (non-manipulated) environment.