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When Biosphere 2 Became a Grand Experiment in Self-Isolation

May 12, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

In the 1990s, eight adventurers spent two years separated from the rest of the world inside a futuristic greenhouse meant to mimic a spaceship—on Earth.

It was the ultimate social-distancing experiment.

On September 26, 1991, four men and four women in dark-blue spacesuits waved goodbye to friends, families and a bank of television cameras as they stepped through an airtight door to embark on an unprecedented mission. In spite of their “Star Trek” styled uniforms, the eight adventurers did not blast off to outer space but sealed themselves off from the outside world for two years inside Biosphere 2—a three-acre, glass-and-steel terrarium in the Arizona desert.

“The future is here!” declared crew member Jane Poynter as she stepped inside the $150 million ecological laboratory and planetary commune prototype that featured 3,800 species of plants and animals and five miniature biomes—a rainforest, coral reef ocean, marsh, savanna and desert.

To test the human capacity for living in isolation in outer space, the eight “Biospherians” hoped to be entirely self-sufficient by growing their own food and recycling all air, water and waste. While they could communicate with the outside world by email, telephone and fax, for two years there would be no hugs with loved ones, no food deliveries, not even any toilet paper.

READ MORE: Who Invented Toilet Paper—and What Came Before

A Countercultural Commune Launched Biosphere 2

The idea for Biosphere 2 (Earth being the first biosphere) emerged from an avant-garde theater and ecological commune known as the “Synergists” that originated in San Francisco in 1967. “What distinguished this group from other counterculture types is they identified as capitalists,” says Matt Wolf, director of “Spaceship Earth,” a 2020 documentary about Biosphere 2. “Their model was to create enterprises designed to be both economically and ecologically sustainable.”

The Synergists operated ecological projects from the tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico to the Australian outback and even built their own ship that they sailed around the world. They were led by charismatic polymath John Allen, a Harvard MBA and metallurgist who penned poems and short stories under the pseudonym Johnny Dolphin and who, according to the Arizona Daily Star, was “described by those who’ve known him as both a visionary and an abusive mind-control guru.”

Billionaire Edward Bass, the maverick son of an oil tycoon and a self-styled “ecopreneur,” was among those drawn to Allen after visiting his Synergia Ranch …read more


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How the Vietnam War Draft Spurred the Fight for Lowering the Legal Voting Age

May 12, 2020 in History

By Dante A. Ciampaglia

As growing numbers of young men were conscripted to fight in the war in Vietnam, a hit song helped drive the push to lower the voting age to match the draft age.

In the summer of 1965, support for the the Court deemed unconstitutional lowering the voting age to 18 in state and local elections but affirmed that change for federal elections. An amendment was now all but necessary to reconcile the inconsistency.

The 26th Amendment, ensuring the “right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age,” passed the Senate 94-0 on March 10 and, 13 days later, the House of Representatives 401-19. It was ratified by three-fourths of the states on July 1. In all, ratification took 100 days—faster than any amendment in US history—and minted 11 million new voters.

Nixon certified the amendment on July 5 in the East Room of the White House, in front of the 500-member choral group Young Americans in Concert. He even randomly selected three 18-year-old members to sign the amendment as witnesses.

“For more than 20 years, I have advocated the 18-year-old vote. I heartily congratulate our young citizens on having gained this right,” Nixon said upon ratification. “I urge them to honor this right by exercising it—by registering and voting in each election.”

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