In 1992, eight individuals entered the “Biosphere 2” in the Arizona desert where they lived for two years. The point was to study interactions inside a closed ecological system. The success of the “planet in a bottle” experiment was, er, debatable. But there are a slew of fascinating stories of what happened inside. Christopher Turner, author of Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America, wrote a piece for Cabinet magazine all about what the Bionauts ate and the team medic Dr. Roy Walford’s “healthy starvation diet.” From Cabinet:
While his subjects pleaded with mission control for more supplies, Walford — who had been on the CRON-diet for years — maintained that their daily calorie intake was sufficient. “I think if there had been any other nutritionist or physician, they would have freaked out and said, ‘We’re starving,’” Walford said, “but I knew we were actually on a program of health enhancement.” Every two weeks he would give them all a full medical checkup. He discovered that their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol counts did indeed drop to healthier levels—which he presumed would retard aging and extend maximal lifespan as it seemed to in mice—though an unanticipated side effect of this was that their blood was awash with the toxins that had been stored in their rapidly dissolving body fat.
In their 1993 book Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2, crew members Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson note: “Each biospherian responded differently to the diet. Initially, over the first six months or so, we lost between eighteen and fifty-eight pounds each. … Roy continued to assure us not to worry when we commented on our baggy pants and loose shirts because our overall health was actually improved by the combination of our diet and the superb freshness and quality of the organically grown food.” They acknowledged that their natural diet was incredibly healthy: “The only problem was that there never seemed to be enough of it.”
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