As a Floridian, when one hears the words Spaceship Earth one immediately thinks of the big, round golf ball that sits at the entrance of Epcot Center. Looming eighteen stories high, it greets excited visitors to an amusement park full of wonder and innovation with an international flair. However, in this case, Spaceship Earth refers to the documentary distributed by Neon. Using archived and present-day footage, the almost two-hour film, offers insight into Biosphere 2, the 1991 experiment that left eight individuals inside the biosphere for two years in order to determine if it is possible to inhabit other planets.
The documentary begins over two decades before eight people entered that glass enclosure when a group of "free spirits" began an acting troop led by John Allen. As they moved throughout the country they experimented building structures until they ended up building a boat and sailed the world. One might think they were a bunch of hippies hallucinating but you would be wrong. They built a hotel in Asia, worked a farm in Australia and incorporated their company as a partnership. With all their building and traveling, many of them were simply conservationists looking to help the planet.
As time went on they worked towards the common goal of trying to create a fully enclosed ecosystem that people could live in in order to survive on other planets. Along the way, they secured the backing of businessman and philanthropist, Ed Bass, and built the 40-acre enclosure over 4 years. There was quite a build-up to the actual launch and media hype was at an all-time high. Then on September 26, 1991, the eight-member team locked themselves inside the Biosphere for the next two years. They included a medical doctor and researcher Roy Walford, Jane Poytner, Taber MacCallum, Mark Nelson Sally Silverstone, Abigail Alling, Mark Van Thillo, and Linda Leigh.
However, over time there were problems with C2O levels climbing dangerously high endangering the lives of the team. Having anticipated this problem the managers on the outside turned on the C2O scrubbers to clean the air inside. Then when one of the team hurt her hand and required surgery, she left the Biosphere only to return later with 3 duffel bags full of supplies. By this point speculation about the success of the project had rumors abounding and had the media on full alert, claiming a cover-up by John Allen and his team. Since the original experiment, the Biosphere 2 has changed hands numerous times, repurposed their missions, and is currently run by the University of Arizona.
What makes Matt Wolf's (Teenage) documentary so interesting is the background and the origin stories of the group that he uses to lay the foundation leading up to the Biosphere 2 experiment. On the one hand, they seem almost cult-like while on the other hand, they were a smart group of people working towards common goals. The fact that they have successful ventures all around the world speaks to the intelligence and success of the group despite the problems with Biosphere 2.
I vaguely remember hearing about Biosphere 2 in the early 1990s but didn't pay very close attention to what it entailed as I was in college during that time. To be able to go back and look at the events that led up to this project, as well as, hearing from some of the team members in the present offered a new dimension to the movie.
While Biosphere 2 wasn't what the experimenters hoped it would be, it did offer some answers and has become a useful research facility.