Seven people moved out of the sealed Biosphere 2 ecological laboratory Saturday after a six-month stay, severing the project's last ties with a discredited management team.
The conclusion of their stay was a milestone in project backer Ed Bass' efforts to put aside Biosphere's image as a blend of fuzzy science and New Age philosophy and legitimize the glass dome as a research tool accepted by mainstream scientists."I think this mission will become known as the shake-up cruise," said crew captain John Druitt of Eng-land.
The project's first two-year mission, which ended last Sept. 26, was known as the shakedown cruise.
This time, Druitt said, "We've shaken the Biosphere from top to bottom and all the loose ends have fallen out."
Biosphere's new administration has created a research consortium with scientists from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
One problem Biosphere 2 is particularly well-suited to study is the effect that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will have on plants over the next century.
The crew members all appeared healthy and well-fed, in contrast to the haggard, gaunt appearance of the first crew when they left the domed, glass-and-steel structure 25 miles northeast of Tucson.
Of the crew members who stepped out of the dome Saturday, one member said he lost 14 pounds; another said she dropped 5. They ate about 2,800 calories daily, several hundred calories more than their predecessors.
The first crew's stay also was punctuated with controversy over management's practice of concealing setbacks.
The secretive cultlike group that provided most managers and half the crew concealed such outside intervention as installation of a mechanical device to clean carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which was supposed to have been kept in balance by the natural interaction of plants and animals.