it. Anything short of a biosphere, by definition, would be an entropy increaser – therefore, at best, a picnic. Only a biosphere increases the free energy and it’s the only way for a long, colonizing settlement to exist. That’s why we called our corporation Space Biospheres. The bankers changed it to Decisions Investment.
Rebecca What interest has NASA shown in the project?
John: NASA people who are looking to go to the moon and Mars have shown intense interest and have flocked there, except when they’ve been forbidden by some of NASA’s upper management who are committed to a Landsat approach. This entails a satellite supervision of the planet earth and is a relic of the cold war, part of the military-industrial-academic complex.
There is no program to go to the moon and Mars today so the attitude of the part of NASA carrying out the official mandate has always been anti-Biosphere 2. On the other hand, people from the Russian and Japanese space programs are highly enthusiastic. The Russians actually sent up a closed ecological system in 1989. They want to go to Mars and Japan wants to go to the moon.
Rebecca What do you think are the benefits of space colonization?
John: I think it’s one of the greatest adventures of all time. I think adventure is where human beings can find the best route to the answer of the question, who am I? You don’t have to justify climbing Mt Everest, you don’t have to justify diving deeper into the oceans than anyone before, and you don’t have to justify going into space. It’s an end in itself because it leads to contemplation. It might also be a practical art, but first and foremost it opens up whole new territories of perspectives.
Rebecca What about the practical applications?
John: The practical applications are quasi-infinite, if not infinite. Number one is efficiency. We don’t learn how to use the space out there, but the space of the vehicles we go in. With the population at its present level, efficiency, without a drastic reduction in the standard of living, cannot continue the way it is.
Also, it inspires an attitude of intellectual rigor and honesty – you cannot go into space and lie, because you die. So I think that space is the one hope of continuing the scientific world view of humanity, because the fundamentalist reaction around the planet earth is so great, the forces are so big, and science itself has fallen under the sway of a reductionist approach that everybody can see is ultimately meaningless.
Outdated world views thousands of years old are calling into action masses of human beings committed to violent methods to take over bigger slices of this earth. But space appeals to everybody. Every human being can see the planet earth, the moon, the sun. It takes you out of superstition and fanaticism. That may be its greatest benefit.
David: Why do you think that children are so eager to go into space?
John: I think like William Burroughs said, we’re here to go. Kids know that. They haven’t been told yet that we’re here to stay until we die and get buried next to the trees. The Sufis have a saying, `traveling polishes the rust off the mirror of the mind.’
Rebecca When do you think that fully manned space stations could become a reality?
John: If there were the political and cultural will to do it, then very quickly, maybe in ten years. In fact, we had it at one time with Skylab, but it was deliberately destroyed.
David: I thought the problem with Skylab was that it descended from orbit and eventually fell down to earth.
John: Because they didn’t give it a boost to keep it up. By the way, it costs nearly 200 million dollars for the external fuel tank of our shuttles to drop back into the ocean. If you took the Wright brothers’ airplane, its first flight could fit inside one of those external tanks. The nose cone alone, with Biosphere 2 techniques, could support two people with the agriculture you could grow there. Anyway, the Russians already have a permanent space station up there – MIR.
Rebecca So you think that one of the main reasons that space stations haven’t become reality in America, is that we’re still recovering from the cold war hangover?
John: Right. In the cold war they wanted something that went around the earth and stayed there, looking back. The famous phrase they used was that they wanted to see Kruschev pissing off the back porch. They actually got it down so that they could see two soldiers marching in lock step.
It’s also extremely expensive and therefore profitable. You have a tremendous military-industrial-academic investment, with millions of people earning a good living, and there’s this huge, lumbering momentum from the cold war where thinking is not appreciated. Witness the attitude to Biosphere 2 during this management takeover. The American system at the top is now sot in its ways – it’s not just set.
Rebecca So if a space station went up tomorrow, would you go and live on it?
John: Sure. I don’t think I’m as qualified as a lot of people (laughter) but if I got a chance I would.
Rebecca Why do you think that humans have this seemingly insatiable urge to create environments that go far beyond basic survival needs. Do you think it has something to do with us trying to prove our independence from `mother’ earth?
John: Our ancestors lived in caves for survival reasons but they also decorated them – they created an environment. There’s an old story in Indian theater where Barata puts on a play and everyone’s ecstatic because it’s the first play they’ve ever seen. Then Shiva comes down and says, that was pretty good but you could have doubled the effect – you could have made it inside a theater, the walls of the theater would have reflected the energy and you could have created a much higher state.
So you have an environment to create space and time and to redo the boundary conditions of existence. Most people don’t realize – even after Einstein – that there is no space out there. Space is generated by the relative movements of things. Time is different in every biosphere and in every human relative to their location in space. So if I can create an environment that basically makes a location in time and space, then I become a master of my existence rather than a slave.
It goes very deep in human beings, this artistic and creative urge to make environments. You can say that a spaceship is a moveable cave and that instead of sitting there with cobras and leopards outside, you have freezing cold and solar radiation to combat. We’re always vulnerable, but creating these environments is the challenge, the adventure, and you make them artistic, that is, valuable, and you get together with people you like.
Rebecca I can’t imagine a man-made environment that would turn me on more than one created by the superhuman forces of nature. Diving in an ocean or walking in the woods – part of the beauty of that experience is that it’s not man-made.
John: But you see, you don’t dive in the ocean. You have a very manicured beach, you have lifeboats for the undertow – it’s a created environment. Even if you found a beach where no human being had ever been before, you’re in a certain perceptual philosophical scheme. Wherever it is it’s a created environment.
Rebecca I can see that the perception of the environment is created by the human mind, but the environment is affected by humanity, not wholly created by it.
John: Highly affected. You don’t have an unaltered environment left on planet earth. You don’t walk in a natural rainforest anymore, either. I’ve walked in parts of several rainforests, and the atmosphere has changed, pharmaceutical collectors have been by and so have surveyors. Nobody walks in an unaltered tropical rainforest. You may imagine you’re doing that but by your size and stature you can’t do it. Natural and artificial are now interpenetrative.
Rebecca But in purely artistic terms it’s still far more beautiful than anything that has been created by humans. There’s a paltry amount of art that’s inspirational in the world today and inspirational environments are even fewer. Why would space biospheres be any different?
John: We need to deepen our perceptions. Stanislavsky said, we should become fighters for truth and beauty. You’re right, humans have historically, been able to create messes out of anything. Heraclitus called the process, turning into the opposite.
Rebecca During a recent trip to Las Vegas I was amazed to what extent they’re attempting to create artificial environments there. Considering that Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in America, is perhaps the future of artificial environments not this visionary exploration of ecosystem interaction, but rather a commercial orgy of materialistic fantasy?
John: Well let’s get rid of this Aristotlian either/or business. When you say artificial environment, it’s a long way from Biosphere 1, to Biosphere 2, to Las Vegas. Las Vegas is already itself an artificial environment – if you put a roof on it, it just becomes a little bit more so. But that’s an artificial environment dedicated to wasting energy.
Rebecca Actually, I was using Las Vegas as representational of a mentality – I wasn’t suggesting that Las Vegas itself was a biosphere.
As you’ve mentioned, the technosphere is by and large unoriginal with commercial interests overwhelmingly given priority – isn’t it more likely then that space station biospheres (in