From Chapter 3, “Genesis”:

“You read the accounts of the Biosphere, what you see in the press . . . they had no idea, it was just the surface,” said Phil Hawes, who was busy sketching blueprints for Biosphere 2. “They had no idea what was going on really and the depth of the strangeness of it all.” Discover magazine called the project the work of “one wealthy investor and a group of mainstream researchers” in an article entitled “The New World.” The magazine made a glowing pronouncement in 1987: Biosphere 2 was “the most exciting venture to be undertaken in the U.S. since President Kennedy launched us toward the moon.”

Such media decrees would take on an exaggerated appearance years down the road. But again, one of the most bizarre things about the Theater of All Possibilities’ cosmic drama was how unbizarre it was, and how much, in its own fantastical way, it reflected other American dramas of its time. Popular culture seemed to have a taste for apocalypse and salvation. Science fiction movies and TV shows had already popularized the idea of eco-colonies in space as humanity’s last refuge from an ailing Earth. . . .

In the mid-1980s, then, Biosphere 2 came at the right time. As a lush green alternative to NASA’s mixed plans of space colonization and possible space warfare, it presented a more beautiful version of the government’s own popular plans. Journalists eagerly played up the drama of a paradise in space. “Local scientists developing new kind of world near Oracle,” the Arizona Daily Star headlines sang, announcing that Biosphere 2 would demonstrate how “people, plants and other life forms could live indefinitely without support from the outside world”—and that similar biospheres “eventually might be used to colonize other planets.” Many onlookers assumed that somehow Biosphere 2 could save the Earth from some dreaded apocalypse. As one magazine journalist wrote, “Although no one is prepared to guess the outcome of their two-year experiment in cocooning, what they learn inside may help save us all.” Even the New York Times explained matter-of-factly that Biosphere 2 would “prepare for a day when Earth might be no longer able to support life—because of the collapse of the sun, perhaps, or more immediately a nuclear war.” To America, Biosphere 2 seemed simultaneously a potential utopia in space and an escape vehicle from the distressed Planet Earth—both a remade Garden of Eden and a Noah’s Ark fleeing toward the stars.

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