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"Biospheric Medicine" as Viewed From the Two-Year First Closure of Biosphere 2

Walford RL, Bechtel R, MacCullum T, Paglia DE, Weber LJ. Aviation Space Environmental Medicine. 1996; 67:609-17.

Abstract: Biosphere 2 is a 3.15-acre, 7-million ft. enclosed ecological space near Tucson, AZ. It contains five wilderness and two domestic biomes (rain forest, savanna, desert, ocean, marsh; agricultural station, living quarters), an original introduction of 3,800 species (~20% extinctions have occurred), and a large basement "technosphere." Sealed inside Biosphere 2 in September 1991, four women and four men, including the two authors, maintained themselves and the various systems for 2 yr, the longest-sustained "isolated confined environment" period on record. MMPI psychological profile scores for Biosphere 2 crewmembers correlated closely with those reported for astronauts and shuttle applicants. Major medical problems encountered during the 2 yr included adaptation to a low-calorie (1800-2200 kcal.d-1 per person) but otherwise nutritionally adequate diet, with substantial weight loss (18% for men, 10% for women), and a declining oxygen atmosphere (down to 14.2%). Life in a miniworld such as Biosphere 2 may differ substantially from life in a space station or temporary planetary base. These differences include multiple, shifting, sometimes opposing post-launch objectives; complete self-sustenance with recycling of virtually all materials within a highly complex biologic system; retooling of some areas of practical medicine; an attention to "culture" as a social dynamic and how that may influence crew and leadership selection in a societal rather than a quasi-military community. Assuming that long-term planetary colonies must be largely self-sustaining (due to costs of supply over great distances), they must of necessity approach the condition of biospheres. Subject to chaos dynamic (nonlinear dynamic) perturbations, the behavior of complex biospheres will be inherently non-predictable -- as opposed to the linear dynamic situation of most space missions -- and will require of the inhabitants, including the medical team, a wide range of coping abilities. Under the circumstances, and while strong similarities exist, important differences may serve to distinguish "biospheric medicine" from "space medicine."

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