It’s 1991 in the semi-arid climate of Oracle, Arizona. Eight “Biospherians” begin a two year long expedition into the possibilities of maintaining life in an entirely closed ecological system.
Their ambition is that one day humans could establish a colony on Mars.
In Biosphere 2—a 3.14 acre self-regulating greenhouse—they grow their own food, care for livestock and run scientific studies.
The film begins with the introduction of the founding members. They’re a mixed group of avant-garde performers, engineers and bohemian professionals whose projects range from boat building to theatrical shows.
The biosphere opens to a fanfare of media attention, as the team—clad in sci-fi-esque boiler suits—wave goodbye. But as the experiment progresses, we see what appears to be a quick deterioration in the environmental conditions, as well as the relationships and health among the biospherians.
Both they and the audience outside begin to question the scientific credibility of the project. Wildlife begins to die off, and it is revealed that extra oxygen is pumped into the system.
At this point the film begins to feel like a series of Big Brother set inside the Eden Project. But the documentary has a contradiction which runs implicitly throughout.
From the New Mexico commune where the founding members created their first ecovillage, to the Biosphere 2, there is the constant presence of Ed Bass.
He’s the man who finances the group’s plans, and whose family made their fortune from oil. You would think this stark contradiction would be explored in much greater depth.
But this relationship is played out on the sidelines.
No connection is made between the source of the project’s funds and the life-preserving ambitions of the biospherians.
In an era of impending ecological disaster and the race to privatise space, Spaceship Earth ignores the more interesting dynamic of fossil fuel funded eco-projects.
Instead it provides an uninspiring account of a story which never fully manifests on screen.