The Controversial Story of the Arizona Desert's Real-Life Biodome

Biodome wasn't just the title of a 90s movie starring Pauly Shore and a Baldwin brother. Two decades ago, it was a real project just north of Tucson where for two years scientists lived inside a three-acre utopian greenhouse called Biosphere 2. What could go wrong? Everything, apparently!


Biosphere 2 was and remains an amazing undertaking, despite its ultimate failure. It was a giant space-age ark in the middle of the desert devoted to exploration and experimentation, where inhabitants produced all their own food and oxygen and recycled their own waste. But it was mired in controversy and riddled with bad press from the get-go. And believe it or not, it was pretty difficult for the eight sphere dwellers to live in the same confined space for two long years without getting on each other's nerves.

Eventually, things went downhill, and a second mission was cut short prematurely. Biosphere 2 is now a research facility owned by the University of Arizona, but the story of its start is an incredible—albeit slightly strange—bit of scientific history. [Vimeo via Avant Garde Diaries via This Is Colossal]


The whole Biosphere 2 project was run by a new age cult leader named John P. Allen, aka "Johnny Dolphin". He had no relevant expertise (Colorado School of Mines, Harvard Business School). His project team was his former theater group he called the "Theatre of All Possibilities". He named Margret "Firefly" Augustine as CEO and "co-architect"; she was previously the company's wardrobe mistress. There was only one real scientist, and a rich texan named Bass bankrolled the whole thing to the tune of $200 million. It was an exercise in eco-theater, not a scientific undertaking.