July 15th, 1982 – Joe Hanson of Jet Propulsions Labs in Pasadena holds a workshop for the newly created study of “Closed Ecosystems.” This is where the “EcoSphere®” was created. Attending the workshop were several renowned ecologists and biologists who had for many years been running tests with closed biological ecosystems. As a new class of science Closed Ecosystem research created as many questions as it answered. It was Joe Hanson who, at the time was working on the first Space Shuttle program at JPL, realized the potential scientific implications of closed ecosystems to applications for human space exploration.
The history leading up to the development of the EcoSphere® dates back to the mid ‘60s. In the early ‘80s scientists were looking into examples or corollaries where “open,” balanced ecological systems were similar to closed ecosystems. This led to the possibility that these studies where animal and plant life could be used to sustain humans in space exploration.
Pioneered by Clair Folsom of the University of Washington research in the ‘60s and then jointly with Joe Hansen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in the early ‘80s, along with other top bio-scientists, it was discovered that diverse colonies of microbes, alga’s, and higher life forms (colonies) could persist apparently indefinitely in closed lab beakers. Hundreds of various closed “EcoSpheres” where made in laboratory flasks by Hanson, Folsom, and others; each became its own ecosystem for further study. (Read about Joe Hanson in the Fredriecksburg The Free Lance Star Newspaper from 1981.)
In 1983 Loren Acker, President of Engineering and Research Associates, Inc. (a small Arizona based medical research company and long associate with the U.S. space program was visiting a NASA official and noticed one of the flasks Joe Hansen had created. Interested in the idea, Acker obtained a NASA Spin-Off Technology license for the EcoSphere. Along with a young employee, Daniel Harmony, they developed the first pilot manufacturing facility for EcoSpheres where the public and educators could directly benefit from NASA’s works. (Read the Carolina Tips article by Nicholas Yensen where Dan Harmony takes the EcoSphere® from NASA experiment to commercial product!)
After the overwhelming success of a 1984 marketing campaign the EcoSphere® was put into full production. The EcoSphere® was marketed throughout the US in high-end national catalogs. The original EcoSphere® was promoted in ads in the Smithsonian Magazine and was sold retail by such names as Niemen Marcus and Hammacher Schlemmer.
The original EcoSphere® has been featured in many TV news articles, magazines, and even included in school textbooks. From kids to Presidents the EcoSphere has been a favorite gift for over 25 years and still being enjoyed today.
Today the EcoSphere is a family run company where Daniel, his wife Michel, and their family successfully operate Ecosphere Associates, Inc. in Tucson AZ. From the startup in a small office complex Ecosphere Associates, Inc. has grown to a highly successful global company with manufacturing partners worldwide.
Initially the handcrafted EcoSphere® was produced in only one size. Over the years various other sizes were created and in 1987 even museum sized Exhibition EcoSpheres were added to the line.
Today, still handcrafted, the EcoSphere® is offered from a 4 inch sphere up to the Exhibition sized 39 inch 500 liter! So far almost 1 million EcoSpheres® have been sold worldwide.