Spaceship Earth is a documentary about Biosphere 2, an experiment carried out in Arizona in which eight people lived inside a sealed bio-dome for two years. The documentary begins by explaining the origins of the group behind the Biosphere 2 project. They met in San Francisco in the late 1960’s and were a theatre group before they became involved in the environment. I was completely unaware of this before watching the documentary – I thought Biosphere 2 was set up by a scientific group – and so it was a serious curveball beginning.
The group, who made Biosphere 2 happen, left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I liked them a lot for their pioneering attitude and their courage to go out and do interesting things. On the other hand, they seemed a lot like a cult. Their leader, John Allen, had a very strong whiff of cult leader about him. I can imagine that they would respond that he was simply charismatic, motivational and intense, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that group, even though they did many fun and interesting things.
There was also the strange matter of money. The group travelled the world in a boat they built themselves, which was very impressive, but I was left thinking,’where did they get the money for all this?’ It then became clear where they did get their money. One of the group was Ed Bass, an oil billionaire. This therefore made their movement into environmentalism tinged with a certain irony.
The group eventually organise the Biosphere 2 project, which seemed to have been heavily influenced by the film Silent Running, about a spaceship biome that contains the last of Earth’s wildlife. The biome they built was very big; it cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The day they entered the dome became a big media event. The eight volunteers entered the dome and stayed there for two years, more or less. I won’t spoil the story for the reader by revealing more, but their stay there didn’t go smoothly. It was an experiment and they didn’t know how it would pan out. It becomes clear, during their time inside, that they don’t have enough food. Also, they can’t balance the carbon-dioxide and oxygen levels. As things get tougher, the cult element of the whole setup, and the controlling, extremely idealistic behaviour of Allen, come to the fore. I’ll leave the viewer to discover how that panned out. What happened after the experiment finishes is even weirder, but I’ll leave the reader to find that out too.
Spaceship Earth is available on Amazon video rental, and other places, and from its website. It’s a fascinating mix of idealism, cultism, naivety, endurance, courage, callousness and love. Definitely recommended.