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'Spaceship Earth,' a wild new doc about Biosphere 2 habitat, launches May 8

"Spaceship Earth," a new documentary set to premiere May 8, reveals the incredible true story of life in quarantine inside the experimental habitat Biosphere 2. 

Biosphere 2 was constructed in Oracle, Arizona between 1987 and 1991 as an experimental research facility originally intended to show that human researchers could be kept alive and healthy in an isolated "bubble-like" environment. In 1991, the first team of scientists sealed itself inside the habitat.

The visually striking installation (it looks like something from a sci-fi film) features a number of human-created biomes including small, capsule versions of a rainforest, ocean, coral reef and more. The facility was originally meant to be a low-key, forward-thinking scientific investigation, but Biosphere 2 was so reminiscent of science fiction that when photos got out of the facility, it immediately caught the world's attention. 

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Biospherians (left to right): Bernd Zabel, Taber MacMullen (top) Mark Van Thillo, Jane Poynter, Linda Leigh, Roy Walford (middle), Abigail Alling, and SallySilverstone (bottom) posing inside Biosphere 2 in 1990. (Image credit: NEON)

However, while the quarantined researchers seemed to be living an idyllic life inside of this incredible facility, things started to go wrong. While the first crew was able to complete their two-year mission, albeit there were some issues, the second crew of "Biospherians" had to leave their mission earlier than anticipated and some have remembered the original experiment as a "failure." The abrupt ending to the experiment left many to make presumptions about the researchers and what really happened inside this elusive facility. 

That's where "Spaceship Earth" comes in. In the documentary, director Matt Wolf aims to tell the full story of what really went on during the original Biosphere 2 experiment decades after its abrupt end. The film, produced by Neon and chosen as a 2020 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection, reveals the story of the eight original "Biospherians" who completed scientific research while quarantined in the facility. The film utilizes both modern interviews with the researchers and archival footage from the original experiment.

"I set out to tell the story of these unconventional visionaries, warts and all, but I also recognized that this is a story much bigger than them. I wanted to make a film about the entire world — how we might live in it sustainably, and what imprint we might make during our lifetimes," Wolf said in a press statement. 

The film will premiere May 8 on digital platforms and on the streaming platform Hulu.

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  • Mark Nelson
    Admin said:
    "Spaceship Earth," a new documentary set to premiere May 8, reveals the incredible true story of life in quarantine inside the experimental habitat Biosphere 2.

    'Spaceship Earth,' a wild new doc about Biosphere 2 habitat, launches May 8 : Read more
    I'm new to space.com so posted on the forums. I wanted to make some corrections to the film review:

    Contrary to the article which stated: "The "Biospherians" had to leave their mission earlier than anticipated and some have remembered the original experiment as a "failure." The abrupt ending to the experiment left many to make presumptions about the researchers and what really happened inside this elusive facility. " The eight biospherians of the first closure experiment completed their planned 2 years inside, 1991-1993. After a transition period when outside scientists conducted research inside the facility, improvements were made based on the experience during the first closure, and a new crew was trained. A second closure experiment happened from March 1994 to September 1994. So the original biospherians did not leave early and there was no abrupt end to the project.

    After a dispute among the owners of the facility, Columbia University assumed management in 1996 and repurposed the facility to global climate change and other research. It was no longer a closed ecological facility but a highly controllable variety of environments, using many of the mini-biomes such as rainforest, savannah, and ocean for research. The facility is now owned and operated by the University of Arizona.

    The facility and experiments were hardly "elusive". Hundreds of papers were published based on the early years of its operation. I write as one of the original biospherians. For those who want to read further, there is a newly published 2nd edition of "Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship" by three of the biospherians, including myself (Synergetic Press, 2020). Two years ago, the University of Arizona Press published my book, "Pushing Our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2." Spaceship Earth is a wonderful film, and the actual project and its lessons are even more interesting and highly dramatic, and increasingly relevant as we strive to make a new relationship with Earth's biosphere (Biosphere 1) for our health and the continued health of our amazing planet.

    So by all means, see the film! and dig deeper if you're interested in the full history.
    Reply