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Date: 11 Oct 91 02:11:12 GMT
From: ssc-vax!bcsaic!hsvaic!  (Dani Eder)
Subject: Re: Biosphere II

Two of the people I work with have visited the Biosphere II project (as
guests and potential collaborators), and one, Susan Doll, has worked
for the Environmental Research Lab in the pqst (they are one of the
organizations paid to do the work on Biosphere II).

Distinguish first between 'science' and 'engineering'.  Engineering
doesn't care WHY it works, it just cares that it DOES work.  In the
case of the Biosphere II project, 'works' is defined by the crew
of 8 being able to last the full two years without having to leave.
They are interested in technical data to the extent it helps them 
succeed in this goal.  Science insofar as it supports this goal is
done, but science for it's own sake isn't of particular interest
to them.

In reality, one of the big hiddn mechanisms in the project is the
'soil bed reactor', which is air pumped through a lot of dirt.
In experiments with small closed ecosystems, mixes of bacteria 
prove remarkably resilient.  The expectation of the Biosphere II
project folk is that the bacteria in the soil will serve to
balance all the imbalances in the mass flows that will occur.
The imbalances will occur, because of random plant and animal
deaths, and because the crew of 8 consume a slightly unpredictable
amount of CO2, food, etc, and because the weather is not 100%
predictable outside (i.e. how much cloud cover -> controls

The reason for 8 people and 2 years, is some of the founders of
the biosphere project want to move to mars.  Some because they
think Earth is a goner and they want to start over (this get 
the 'kook' play in the news), and others (like Susan) because they
believe that using biology is better in the long run for going
to Mars because you don't have to keep sending supplies from Earth.

2 years is supposed to be enough time to get to Mars (7 months)
and start setting up additional greenhouses to expand into.  
Presumably a larger ecosystem is more resilient, so after you
expand, you will tend to be okay.  Then the question is what is
the least ecosystem to start with?  Bringing a running one with
you would cut startup time.  Otherwise you would have to live 
on stored consumables on the trip, and until the first crop
of seeds gets going, which would be close to a year total.

Then you would have to introduce the other species (insects, etc)
in some fashion from Earth, and keep them alive or in some sort
of storage during the trip.  In the end, you would have
delivered the same set of species piecemeal, tking a long time.
The biosphere II method is bring it all at once.

Another part of the 'experiment' is in fact a testing to destruction
method of selecting species to put in a closed ecosystem.  Since
we don't know a lot about what kind of species and ecosystems
will work, this Biosphere II project, with 7 ecosystems and
4000 species, is a form of mass screening like is done to find
useful drugs.  If they find that 90% of the species die off, for
the second run they can start with the 400 remaining species and
see if they form a stable system.

From a utilitarian point of view, all they need to keep the
humans alive is the intensive agriculture part of the Biosphere II
The rest is part showmanship, part mass screening, part
'its my money and I want it this way even if it doesn't make sense'


Dani Eder/Boeing/Advanced Civil Space/(205)464-2697(w)/461-7801(h)/#905, 1075
Dockside Dr.,Huntsville,AL35824/Member: Space Studies Institute
Physical Location: 34deg 37' N 86deg 43' W +100m alt.

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