RUSSIAN BIOS PROJECT

JOHN ALLEN
Founder and former Vice-President of Biospheric Development, Biosphere 2 Project,
Space Biospheres Ventures

A Russian experimenter in the Bios3 closed system.


My introduction to the Bios project came in 1986 when seven of us from the Biosphere 2 project, then engaged in its design and research phase, met Oleg Gazenko and Evgenii Shepelev in Moscow. We had come for detailed talks about closed life systems and their necessity for the space program and Biosphere 2, the Earth life system. Gazenko, Shepelev, and his colleague Maleshka, at the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow, had been intimately involved with study of the effects of space on cosmonauts. Shepelev, in 1961, had also been the first human to stay in a closed life system containing chlorella as the only bioregenerative component. As the first day of open, productive, and profound discussions came to a close, Gazenko said, "tomorrow, Josef Gitelson will be here from the Bios-3 experiment in Krasnoyarsk. He is essential for this meeting to move forward." Bios-3 was something of a clandestine legend to the handful of people actually working on closed life systems. Their data were tightly restricted by the Soviet government, Krasnoyarsk itself was absolutely off-limits to Westerners, and some in the US doubted that anything of note had ever happened there.

The next day when we met the warm, lively, energetic Josef Gitelson, and saw his documentary film of Bios-3, we knew we had met a master in the field, a friend, a colleague, and a maker of history. Gitelson and his group at the Institute of Biophysics had grappled with the physiological, atmospheric, engineering, socio-psychological, and ecological problems of these complex artificial systems which were new to humanity. Of utmost importance to the Biosphere 2 project, which was designed to model the basic operations of Biosphere I (Earth), was his detailed work showing that human health concerns in these restricted environments could be successfully managed. The agricultural production data matched our projections when adjusted for differences in light levels, and this helped accelerate our agricultural design, since there was now an external confirmation of the possibilities in closed systems. The work on human reactions to elevated CO2 was also of great use. Bios-3 had not recycled human waste, but had recycled its air, nearly all its water, and supplied a substantial percentage of the food. Biosphere 2 would have to accomplish all these closures, and the detailed measurements from Bios 3 would help us immensely.
On both a theoretical and practical basis, Gitelson has always recognized the key role of man in closed life systems as eco-producer-consumer, monitor and controller, and quality assessor of "the value, completeness and perfection of the operation of the system." I can confirm that these three aspects of man had always been and remain major aspects of Biosphere 2 design: ecological, behavioral, and contemplative-qualitative as we called them. A full recognition of the complete importance of humanity is necessary to succeed in biospherics.

The next year, in 1987, we met some of Gitelson outstanding team at the First International Meeting in Closed Life Systems at the Royal Society's chambers in London, co-sponsored by Space Biospheres Ventures. And in 1989, we co-sponsored with Gitelson, the Second International Conference at Krasnoyarsk, where the name biospherics was adopted by the unanimous vote of delegates from Russia, ESA, UK, and USA to describe the new emerging science.

Today, Gitelson and his group are designing an advanced form of Bios-3, and he freely travels the world, advancing biospherics and making invaluable contributions in his generous way to all of the thinking and work being done in this rapidly expanding field. I urge everyone engaged in Closed life system and biospheric research and development, and public-minded citizens interested in the environment, to make themselves familiar with the results of Gitelson's work, his vision, and the collegial team-spirit which animate his creative relationships.