reading notes from The Terranauts, T.C. Boyle.

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Questionnaire

In the history of the planet, only twelve astronauts have walked on the moon, and all of them were men.

Thought isn’t a form of energy. So how on Earth can it change material processes

The earth was running out of resources, global warming was beginning to be recognized as science fact and not science fiction, and if man was to evolve to play a part in things instead of being just another doomed organism on a doomed planet, if the technosphere was going to replace pure biological processes, then sooner or later we’d have to seed life elsewhere—on Mars, to begin with.

What did E.O. Wilson say? If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. The moral imperative of humanism is the endeavor alone, whether successful or not, provided the effort is honorable and the failure memorable.

Tillman, Arizona, forty miles northeast of Tucson

  • Dawn Chapman, Manager of Domestic Animals
  • Tom Cook, Technosphere Supervisor
  • Gretchen Frost, Manager of Wilderness Biomes
  • Diane Kesselring, Supervisor of Field Crops and Crew Captain
  • Richard Lack, Medical Officer
  • Ramsay Roothoorp, Communications Officer/Water Systems Manager
  • Troy Turner, Director of Analytic Systems
  • Stevie van Donk, Marine Systems Specialist

I don’t know. Call it science-theater. Call it a dramatization of ecological principles under the guiding cosmology of Gaia, in which E1, the original world where we were all born and nurtured, could be viewed as a living organism negotiating the heavy cosmic seas—“Spaceship Earth,” as Buckminster Fuller, one of our foundational thinkers, dubbed it. Everything connected, everything one. And E2, the new world, the first and only world apart from the original one, was to be our laboratory and our home, Gaia in miniature.

those species would be replaced or substituted for as we experimented with the introduction of new species altogether, one of the investigations in closed-systems ecology we were undertaking here involving what is called “species packing,” in which more species than necessary are put in place in order to leave room for extinctions and study the mechanism by which one species replaces another or, more accurately, inhabits its niche.

She believed in the rights of the mineral kingdom (“‘We should be ethical, not merely economic, in our treatment of rocks,’” she once told me, quoting Roderick Nash)

By the way, if Burroughs’ presence surprises you, it shouldn’t. As I’ve said, we were trying to emphasize the way our new technics melded art and ecology in a synergistic flow, and Burroughs’ books—especially Naked Lunch and the cut-up texts like The Soft Machine and Nova Express—helped push our thinking in new directions. He was always making pronouncements about space and the future and how humans should evolve to leave the planet in “astral dream bodies,” which might have had just a bit too much of the taint of New Age woo-wooism about them but spoke to what we were doing nonetheless. Burroughs was an amigo of G.C. from the bad old days before G.C. found his true calling as our leader and chief visionary and it was Burroughs’ insistence on the Ecospherians’ need for a companion primate that prompted Mission Control to include a troop of galagos in the original ark’s list of species included in E2

Bion’s Experiences in Groups; Mumford’s Technics and Civilization

Ultimately, no matter the experiments we performed, the physiological analyses Richard routinely ran on all of us or our struggles with balancing the O2/CO2 ratios, food—its cultivation, preservation, preparation and assimilation—was the sine qua non of closure. Without it we’d be unable to function. Without it, we’d starve. And if we starved, the mission would be an even more colossal and humiliating failure than Mission One, because the outside world, with its reporters and pundits and scientific opinion makers, not to mention moralists and religious nuts, would be sure to gather at the airlock and insist on breaking closure. So: regimentation. Efficiency. All our eggs in one basket. This was what we’d signed on for.

“Nature always subverts your expectations.”

Holidays were important too, as with any tribe, as were crew birthdays, and we extended our list of holidays beyond the usual Christianized ones to include Earth Day, the equinoxes and Bicycle Day, commemorating the first acid trip taken by the inventor of LSD, Albert Hofmann

Nylanderia fulva, the crazy ant

Ours was an innoxious paradise, built to serve our needs and sustain itself in perpetuity, a working example of what NASA labeled CELSS, for Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems.

The fact is, the literature on small group interaction is rife with anomalous behavior, from violence and mental instability to the formation of cliques and factions and the total breakdown of societal norms. One overwintering crew at the Antarctic Research Station split off into two separate factions—gangs—that raided each other’s food supplies, though there was more than enough food to go around, and even adopted identifying insignia and colors as if they were Crips and Bloods fighting over turf. By the time the relief crew arrived in the spring, there had been two all-out brawls (the first over whether the movie of the night would be Ice Station Zebra or The Sound of Music), resulting in a fractured ankle, a broken wrist and two misaligned noses, and one faction went so far as to try to falsify the other’s data. Which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of their being there in the first place

Why the thoroughness? Because, as G.C. explained at the outset, our bodies were laboratories in themselves, as invaluable to the project as anything either animate or inanimate in E2, and Mission Control was unwavering about our compliance here. To pick just one example out of many, during our mission it was shown that after six months our blood became flooded with lipophilic compounds (PCB, DDE and DDT) which had been released into our bloodstreams as we burned off the fat where they’d been stored, and there wasn’t one of us who wasn’t sobered by this evidence—evidence in the blood—of what was wrong out there in the world. None of us had been miners or worked in chemical plants or nuclear facilities. We’d lived normal American lives in the wealthiest country ever known and nonetheless wound up accumulating these toxins in our bodies just from having lived and breathed and consumed the food and swallowed the water in E1, and if that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what does. And that’s it, that’s it exactly—people were always criticizing us, asking Where’s the science? Well, here it was, right in your average American bloodstream.


The pigs and goats lived right beneath us, in the way of the medieval farmhouse, animals on the ground floor, humans upstairs, an arrangement that had served our species well down through the ages. I was opposed to the factory slaughterhouse and its casual cruelty, as any thinking person had to be, but death was the inevitable result of life, and if an animal was humanely raised and humanely slaughtered, I had no issue with that. Or so I thought.

exhausted by the demands of keeping our world together


rewilding ourselves in the way of the circus animals released back into the game parks of India and Africa or the pet wolves let go on the tundra

“So what’s new under the troposphere?,”


What people didn’t realize was that the special gift of E2 was in presenting a possible world with an eye toward tweaking it over the course of a century to create an ideal one. The whole idea behind species packing is to see which ones will find that niche and survive and how they’ll contribute to the whole—at the end of a century we’ll see genetic variation that makes E2’s biota unique from anything else on earth.

rice/azolla/tilapia feedback loop

Bicycle Day (April 19) feast

“From above house of heaven where star people and ancestors gather may their blessings come to us now From below house of earth may the heartbeat of her crystal core bless us with harmony and peace to end all war and from the galactic source which is everywhere at once may everything be known as the light of mutual love.”

so ordinary-looking you couldn’t pick him out of a lineup of one


Elide though you might, life has a way of biting back, even life in as controlled an environment as E2. I’m talking about cosmic irony here, the kind of thing that makes you believe there must be a God after all, or at least his opposite number, a malicious turner of events who could make even the Astrophysical Society question whether the universe is truly indifferent.

Because while people might admire purity, or give lip service to it, they all secretly want to see it compromised, ideals crushed and sullied and dragged down into the mud they inhabit. We might need our heroes and mad saints to live for us, but we certainly don’t want to exchange places with them and all the while we’re yearning for the sick thrill of their temptation and fall. Read Genesis.

In the words, the ceaseless repetitive rat-tat-tat of the words. We’re a noisy species, a gabbling species. We explain. Endlessly.

I would like to acknowledge my debt to the accounts of the original Biospherians, especially Abigail Ailing and Mark Nelson’s Life Under Glass and Jane Poynter’s The Human Experiment, as well as to Rebecca Reider’s thorough history of the project, Dreaming the Biosphere, and John Allen’s foundational Biosphere 2: The Human Experiment.

  • the_terranauts.txt
  • Last modified: 2019-01-18 16:20
  • by nik