From Chapter 7: The Human Experiment

“I’ve got those no chocolate fondue, no hot water bubble bath, wallowing algae scrubbers, back-breaking, total process breakdown blues,” crooned the four women of Biosphere 2—five months before they actually entered the Biosphere. In a play they wrote, directed, and performed for a crowd of their friends and coworkers, titled The Wrong Stuff (a spoof on The Right Stuff, the book about NASA astronauts), the eight biospherians had acted out, in exaggerated hysterics, all the crises that might befall them in their new world. Wearing red and blue wigs, painted faces, and glittering costumes, they pranced about the stage colliding with each other, pulling on then–crew captain Bernd Zabel’s limbs until they threatened to tear him apart, arguing over whose area of the Biosphere deserved the most attention. They rolled on the floor to a drumbeat, moaning and chanting in unison, “I’m sick, I’m sick, I’m sick of you all.” In one scene, Sally meted out food to each biospherian for a meal: three lettuce leaves to one, two radishes to another, a kumquat to a third; sobbing and panting in hunger, the crew sang, “One more Swiss chard, and I am going to puke; that one good meal, well it was just a fluke.” In another scene, the crew members panicked because they were supposed to write a scientific report. “All we need is a lot of numbers, a lot of graphs, and just make it look beautiful. We’ll call it ‘creative data’!” Jane exclaimed, and they all began furiously scribbling nonsensical graphs on a screen. Later the eight split into two groups of four, shouting at each other in a “battle of the sexes.”

Though John Allen was never mentioned by name, his presence was inferred in a scene toward the end. “Look at this team. How could we ever succeed with a team of eight people like this? Sitting in his office, writing another scene for his new play,” Linda snarled. Sally chimed in: “Nobody can operate this catastrophe because you designed it that way, and now you’re out there and we’re in here!” In anger, the crew mutinied against “Mission Out-of-Control,” chanting, “Cut the cable, cut the crap!” The play ended with the biospherians strutting about in a song and dance number that concluded in their forming a human pyramid—which collapsed to the ground. The audience of their friends and coworkers laughed hysterically and cheered.

And yet every single one of those scenarios that the biospherians acted out, in some variation or another, took place in Biosphere 2.

Before he locked himself inside the Test Module for the first time in 1988, John Allen had asked for words of wisdom from the Russian scientist Evgenii Shepelev, the first man ever to inhabit a closed ecological system decades earlier. Shepelev responded, “Remember, man is the most unstable element in the system.” This was the irony of Biosphere 2. In their dedicated, scientific efforts to manage every aspect of an ecological system, from ocean chemistry to atmosphere to agricultural production, the biospherians discovered that the least manageable factor of all was the one seemingly closest at hand: the human mind.