Human terrarium, Biosphere 2, looking good at 20

By Allen G. Breed

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 30 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

"Our understanding of how ecosystems are coupled to the atmosphere, how they're driven by climate, I mean, these are all issues that we absolutely have to deal with — right now," says Huxman, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Arizona. "Biosphere 2's just become more and more relevant to that science through time. We don't have the capability to do this anywhere else."

And, as it has been from the beginning, B2 is a major tourist attraction.

About 100,000 visitors a year make the journey out to Oracle. Many, like Web designer Lisa Gray of Newport, Ore., were unaware that the biospherian era had ended.

"I thought that the people were still living here, and that the experiment was still ongoing," says Gray, who toured the facility one recent day with her wife, Kelly Everfree, and their 6-year-old son, Orion.

As the 20th anniversary of that first closed mission approaches, university officials are trying to keep things in perspective.

"We need to be careful that people do understand that what's going on there now is really serious research," says Ruiz. "In the end, simply put, when they sealed themselves in there, it was an experiment that failed."

Poynter, chairwoman and president of Tucson-based Paragon Space Development Corp., bristles at such talk.

"I just am so SICK of that sort of snarky way that a lot of people talk about the Biosphere in its early years," says Poynter, who still visits B2 often and sometimes leads tours. "The fact is that we built this unbelievable place that no one had ever done before. ... We were a very forward-thinking, very unusual group of people — pulled off an unbelievable feat. But, somehow, the unbelievable feat gets lost in the rest of the story."

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