How we almost saw Biosphere2

20190619_091811I meandered down to Tucson, Arizona, with one of my sons last week. On the last day of our trip, before we caught our plane back home, we had a few extra hours. We decided to go see Biosphere2, the world-renowned self-enclosed science station run by the University of Arizona that’s about a 45-minute drive outside of town.

Because we would be time-limited, I checked the station’s website to see when their tours run. The text said tours were offered throughout the day on a first-come, first-served basis. Great! We would have time for a tour if we arrived right when their doors opened at 9 a.m.

However, when we got there, the docent said the tours wouldn’t be starting until 10 a.m., which was when we needed to leave to catch our flight. We were disappointed, but decided to pay the entry fee anyway and take a self-guided tour of the grounds.

I remembered hearing about the facility while I was growing up when a team of “terranauts” closed themselves into this giant terrarium for two years to see if humans could live in a man-made environment, with the thought that something similar could be done on some other planet, like mars.

What I didn’t realize from the news stories about the experiment is that Biosphere2 has different enclosures for different environments. There’s a rainforest, an ocean, a desert, and a coastal fog desert. To ensure adequate air exchange, there are event two “lung” buildings that control air volume.

On our self-guided tour, we were able to see the outside of the rainforest building, which is covered in glass panels. Leaves were plastered against the windows, making it look like the plants were just about to burst out of their man-made enclosure.

We were also able to go into the living area that the team used when they were enclosed in the facility. Unfortunately, construction was going on, so we really weren’t able to see much of anything. But there was a cool globe where we could see graphic representations of world populations, Facebook friend links and the like.

The last place we visited was the ocean building. We were able to go inside it and see the exhibits. Unfortunately, the ocean itself is experiencing an algae overgrowth. The water was green, which made it hard to see any fish.

Although we hardly got to see anything, it was still cool. I would like to go back there again under better circumstances and try to get the official tour.


The huge rainforest pavilion, with plants plastered against the glass.

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