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The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2 Hardcover – August 18, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On September 26, 1991, Poynter, along with seven others, entered Biosphere 2, a three-acre, hermetically sealed environment, for a two-year stay. Their goal was two-fold: to demonstrate that humans could live under the necessary conditions for survival in bases on the Moon or Mars, and to conduct experiments to improve our understanding of ecosystems. In her first-hand account, Poynter describes all aspects of the much-debated project, from crew selection to life on the inside, while addressing the nature of the scientific undertaking and the politics that embroiled everyone associated with it. She is at her best recounting how the eight "biospherians" devolved into a dysfunctional family and commenting on the import such patterns will undoubtedly have on long-distance space travel. Her analysis of the science is weaker, more congratulatory than incisive. She provides only a brief discussion, for example, on the addition of thousands of pounds of oxygen into the structure on two occasions despite the goal to make the artificial biosphere completely self-contained. While the writing is sometimes overly precious ("So, with as much emotional energy as the space shuttle has rocket power on liftoff, I launched myself into a life of adventure and discovery"), Poynter's story makes for instructive reading. (Sept. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

On September 26, 1991, eight bold-spirited adventurers entered the 3.15-acre, hermetically sealed, ecologically engineered environment in the Arizona desert known as Biosphere 2. Two years later, they emerged, thinner and wiser, proud of their accomplishment, yet devastated by the psychological and emotional tolls the experiment exacted. From her earliest days as one of the hand-picked candidates for admission into the Biosphere program, Poynter exhibited a fervent belief in the revolutionary scientific goals of the mission and an idealistic faith in the ecumenical brotherhood such an isolated atmosphere could engender. When climatic and other life-support systems began to malfunction, however, the biospherians' utopian vision soon devolved into a dystopian nightmare as paranoia, jealousy, and mistrust became a greater threat than any loss of oxygen. As an electrifying testament to the strength of their commitment and an indictment of the self-defeating power of ego, Poynter's explicit insider's account of the creation and completion of the controversial mission exposes both the successes that were ignored by the media and the failures that received excessive attention. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (August 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156025775X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560257752
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jane Poynter is one of only eight people ever in history to live sealed in an artificial world for two years. Jane's preparation for Biosphere 2 involved training to survive in the Australian Outback and onboard a concrete research boat in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. She was part of the Biosphere from the start, ultimately managing the farm where the crew grew its food.

She is now President of Paragon Space Development Corporation, an aerospace firm that she co-founded with fellow biospherian, Taber MacCallum, while inside Biosphere 2. Since leaving the project, Jane has had experiments flown on the International Space Station, the Russian Mir Space Station, and the U.S. Space Shuttle. Currently, she and Paragon are developing life support systems for astronauts and Navy deep-sea divers - and Jane recently started The Carbon Company, which consults on international environmental projects.

Jane and Taber married a year after exiting Biosphere 2. They live in Tucson, Arizona, where they race motorcycles on weekends.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Many people in 1991 were fascinated by the idea of Biosphere 2, a closed, hermetically sealed, self-sustaining, man-made ecosystem with a desert, an ocean, a rainforest, a savannah, a marsh, a habitat and an intensive farm, all in three acres. On September 26 eight people entered the structure for a two-year stint living "as if on Mars, farming all our food, recycling our water, our waste and even the oxygen we breathed..."

But bad publicity dogged the project even before the team went in. The public grew skeptical, as the Biospherians were dismissed as frauds, cult figures, publicity hounds and charlatans. None of which, strictly speaking, was completely false. Or completely true.

Jane Poynter, who celebrated her 30th birthday in Biosphere 2, and went on to found an aerospace firm with fellow Biospherian (and later husband) Taber MacCallum, attempts to set the record straight with this emotional and wide ranging account.

Poynter was an upper-class English girl who joined the Institute of Ecotechnics at age 20 for travel and adventure - and, no doubt, to escape her parents' conventional expectations. The IE group, headed by charismatic and authoritarian John Allen, were Synergists who believed in a "strict adherence " to three avocations - theater, philosophy and business - to keep themselves in intellectual, emotional and economic balance. This was the group that went on to conceive and build Biosphere 2.

Poynter was an early candidate for the team. Her training included stints on a Ferro-cement research vessel built by IE staffers and an outback ranch in remote Australia populated primarily by large meat-eating ants, plagues of flies, and termites who ate the tires off cars.
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First, I am not a professional reviewer or writer. I am an like everyone else who likes to read a good book.

I liked this book for a few good reasons. It was easy to read and follow. I didn't get tired from reading it. At times I would get so engrossed in reading it that time would seem to fly by.

This book gives you the inside story of the Biosphere 2 experiment. It tells about the relationships of the people involved and some of the History leading up to the experiment. It even gives you a bit of the science behind the Biosphere told in a way that a non technical person can understand. It tells about the fun times and some of the bad times even some of the funny times. It is certainly not a dry read. I think that Jane Poynter did a good job writing this book. It certainly answers some of the questions raised in the past about the Biosphere 2 experiment. It is a good read, I recommend it. I own it, I am going to keep it and I look forward to reading it again.
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Jane Poynter gives a very honest story of her involvement in the group that conceived and built the Biosphere 2, where she came from and where the group was coming from.

Jane obviously knows her Biospherics, the book has Bibliography and Index for easy reference like a scientific paper, the Science almost reads like a hard techno-thriller, Low Oxygen, Failing Power, Constant food shortage.

This combined with the tensions between the people inside and outside of the biosphere makes a very intense story, where the reader gets drawn into the drama and emotional stress.

That the story is real, and told by one of the participants is astounding.

"No-one can make this up"

Written in 2005 Jane Poynter has the distance to the events to make the story balanced, it is not one sided, she objectively describes the events, and tries to make an objective assessment of her own feelings at the time.

The book is not a personal vendetta against other people in the Biosphere 2 project.

Overall a 5 star book
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more thoughts along with those for Abigail Alling's "Life Under Glass" which I put in a separate review:

Poynter's memoir goes into a lot more detail about the personalities and the personal problems of the people involved in the Biosphere2 project than Alling's book. Poynter wrote hers fifteen years after the fact, while Alling and Nelson cobbled together their book in their spare time during the two-year mission. So Poynter had much more time to research and collate the massive amount of material, and a lot of time to think things over and develop some perspective. She wasn't starving and oxygen-deprived while she was writing it, either.

I won't go into much detail about all the problems that plagued the project, since many other reviewers have done so. I'll just add a few other thoughts:

* A lot of people probably wonder why they stopped the sealed "missions" after the aborted second one. Mostly it's a matter of money, but it seems that the inherent problems with the facility's design make longterm enclosure missions futile. Poynter mentions late in her book that the CO2 problems took a decade or more to resolve themselves. By that point the facility was no longer owned by the creators, Columbia University had come and gone, and the facility was pretty much abandoned by the time another sealed longterm mission could have been undertaken. And the glass and steel structure only lets in about half the available light, so there's very little that could be done to grow enough food to keep the crew healthy and keep the wilderness biomes operating the way they were intended.

* Both Alling and Poynter have touching vignettes about the then-state-of-the-art computers and other equipment in the facility.
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