It is amazing how fast the project developed with less than a decade between initial plans and final completion. This fast development stands in contrast to NASA's research efforts on bioregenerative life support systems, which are still incomplete after more than 50 years of effort.
The first manned experiment consisted of enclosure of a crew of eight people for a 2-year period from September 1991 to September 1993. During the experiment the project became engulfed in controversy, from both the outside scientific community and the general public. An emphasis on popularization for education and media purposes dominated the early stages of the project (Allen, 1991; Alling and Nelson, 1993). This was a positive initiative but was not immediately backed up with hard scientific documentation and full discussion of problems inherent in any project of the scale of Biosphere 2. Pivotal in the controversy was the report of an outside scientific advisory panel, which was critical of project management in some respects but complimentary in others. Ultimately, relationships between the scientific advisory committee and the management team broke down and the committee resigned. Meanwhile, oxygen levels inside Biosphere 2 dropped (Figure 4.25), threatening the health of the original crew and requiring additions from outside. Some viewed this bailout as failure of the project, and miscommunications about this and other problems occurred between the management team and outsiders. Eventually the original management team was disposed of by the owner and Biosphere 2 was transferred to Columbia University to be used for global change research with no emphasis on bioregenerative technologies. While no one can know all of the details of the events that took place in the project's history, much can be learned from the updates published in the News & Comments and other sections of
Science magazine (Appenzeller, 1994; Kaiser, 1994; Stone, 1993; Watson, 1993; Wolfgang, 1995). Was the original Biosphere 2 project judged unfairly by the scientific community and the general public? E. P. Odum (1993), a member of the original scientific advisory committee, wrote that Biosphere 2 represented a new kind of science (as did Nelson and Dempster, 1993) and that it provided knowledge that could not have been acquired by other methods (as did Avise, 1994). Surprises occurred inside Biosphere 2 that challenged conventional thinking. For example, it took a graduate student to interpret the missing sink in the oxygen and carbon budgets as absorption by the concrete (Severinghaus et al., 1994). These kinds of surprises are learning opportunities and more can be expected as results from the original Biosphere 2 project are published (see, for example, the 1999 special issue of Ecological Engineering devoted to Biosphere 2: Vol. 13, Nos. 1-4; Cohn, 2002; Cohn and Tilman, 1996; Walford, 2002).
A related new development concerning life support systems and space travel is the work being done by the Mars Society. This is an international organization of people interested in exploration and, ultimately, colonization of the planet Mars. To some extent the society has been initiated and inspired by Robert Zubrin's (1996) plan which includes use of physical-chemical resources on Mars to make return fuel. Thus, a Mars mission would have to carry only enough fuel to get to Mars. Once there, the explorers could make the fuel for the return trip with indigenous resources. This approach reduces the required payload and makes the entire mission concept much more feasible than alternative scenarios. Research to support the Mars Society vision is being conducted with a different approach than has been used by NASA or Biosphere 2. Table 4.6 compares some differences with emphasis on life support initiatives. All three organizations envision greenhouse-based systems, but the work of the Mars Society is recent and closure of the systems has not yet been attempted. Current emphasis is on wastewater recycling in the Mars Society's greenhouse (Figure 4.26).
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