But the Biosphere 2 was a real experiment, and it was so much more than anyone knew.
In "The Lost History of One of the World’s Strangest Science Experiments," author Carl Zimmer discusses the strange-but-true story of Biosphere 2 in the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona.
Biosphere 2 would be a gigantic leap beyond those creations. Its plans called for 3,800 species of plants and animals, including hummingbirds and lemur-like primates called bush babies. Wastewater would get purified as it was pumped through soil, where microbes would remove contaminants.
The idea of building a world — one free of pollution and other woes of the late-20th-century Earth — proved irresistible. The night before the mission began, Space Biospheres Ventures hosted a dance party for 2,000 people, including Woody Harrelson and Timothy Leary. On the morning of Sept. 26, 1991, eight Biospherians, Ms. Alling and Mr. Van Thillo among them, paraded in front of the press wearing blue jumpsuits that looked like surplus costumes from “Star Trek VI.” After the airlock was shut, they waved to the cameras from behind the glass.
This self-sufficient experiment actually had quite a bit more intervention and contact with the outside world than people suspected, with secret monthly dropoffs of supplies.
It soon became clear that raising food in Biosphere 2 was a major challenge. The weather was cloudy for the first few months of the mission, stunting the growth of crops. The Biospherians had to break into a three-month supply of food that had been secretly stored away before the doors had closed.
Then Biosphere 2 began to lose oxygen because the soil had spawned an explosion of oxygen-gulping bacteria. The crew felt as if they were living at 14,000 feet. A truckload of liquid oxygen finally saved them; as soon as the gas began spraying into Biosphere 2, they began racing around in joy. Meanwhile, the ecosystem was in flux. The hummingbirds and honeybees died, leaving the crops unpollinated. Nematode worms and broad mites attacked the crops. Cockroaches reigned.
In 1993, Mr. Bannon was a long way from becoming a nationalist celebrity or presidential adviser. At the time he was a Beverly Hills-based investment banker specializing in takeovers. Mr. Bass tapped Mr. Bannon to overhaul Space Biosphere Ventures, which was hemorrhaging money. According to Mr. Bannon, Biosphere 2 would run a deficit of $16 million to $20 million in 1993 alone.
It's a fascinating article which should be read in full. You can still visit Biosphere 2, which is now a part of the University of Arizona. Apparently there's a documentary about Biosphere 2, and the experiment, while still facing many challenges, turned out some interesting data.