Spaceship Earth is available now on Hulu and select VOD platforms.
In 1991, a team of eight brave and unique individuals entered into a two-year experiment to try to live in and maintain a closed and sealed biological environment. The expansive facility, designed to mimic the Earth in microcosm, housed multiple ecosystems and an assortment of flora and fauna. The human team managing the project would nurture the environment to grow their own food and, more critically, maintain breathable air.
The Biosphere 2 project was a national and global curiosity, and for this science-minded 10-year-old, a subject of endless fascination. Over the course of the next two years, it ran into myriad problems and was painted, perhaps unfairly, as a failed experiment. I’ve always wanted to learn more about what ever happened to the project and its participants, and thanks to director Matt Wolf’s new documentary film Spaceship Earth which interviews many persons associated with the project, I can finally hear their story.
The obvious appeal of the concept is an attempt to turn science fiction into science fact: if someday in the distant future we want to explore space with sustainable long-term resources, export our biological preserves, or take up terraforming on another planet, these are concepts we need to practice on Earth first. One of the Biospherians even makes specific reference to taking inspiration from the film Silent Running in this respect.
But beyond the attractive sci-fi trappings of the idea, the project was in many ways more earthbound than most people probably ever realized, concerned with ecological harmony and sustainability.
Spaceship Earth tells the bizarre tale, which began not in a corporate boardroom, NASA research facility, or scientific think tank, but at Synergia Ranch — a commune where its eccentric members, devotees to the arts, sciences, and environmentalism, dreamed up the amazing concept and set it into motion.
Their story is fascinating and enlightening, and more strange than I ever expected. Using a combination of interviews and archival footage (both the Synergia and Biosphere 2 projects were exceptionally well documented), Spaceship Earth weaves together an incredible presentation summing up the genesis, triumphs, failures, and legacy of Biosphere 2. It didn’t revolutionize space travel, start up an ongoing movement of Biosphere projects as planned, or even accomplish its basic tenets of keeping all eight participants contained and the environment closed, but as a study of ecological sustainability and communal living, there’s never been anything like it.
Despite its stated purpose of telling the full story of Biosphere 2, Spaceship Earth made no mention of the Pauly Shore/Stephen Baldwin film Bio-Dome.