The Outer Space Undergroud

Arizona's quiet visionaries yearn to make the state a hub of commercial space travel

An example, please?
Stine leans back from the card table in the library of his north Phoenix home and pulls Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, published in 1865, from a bookshelf.

By the end of the afternoon, the table will becovered with books, reports and articles--many authored by Stine--that perfectly illustrate whatever point he's making.

With long fluorescent light fixtures and rows of metal bookshelves, the room seems like a classroom, and Stine like a professor in a navy cotton jumpsuit and high tops--a portly 67-year-old with crazy eyebrows and a keen wit.

Stine isn't just a writer; he was trained as an engineer, and pioneered the development of model rocketry.

He also served as science adviser to CBS News during the Apollo missions. Stine recalls that anchor Walter Cronkite used to sit on a platform, with Stine below. Stine would hand up notes and wire copy for Cronkite to read. Stine was in the cafeteria of CBS headquarters on West 57th Street in New York when he heard James Lovell's infamous, "Houston, we have a problem ..." It took four hours to reassemble the news team. Everyone had gone home.

Despite his credentials and devotion to space travel, Stine maintains an irreverent side.

"You know," he says, "the Japanese have identified the primary market for a flight in orbit--a couple hours of weightlessness, then coming back. That market is newlywed couples."

"Because there are a hell of a lot of people who want to find out if it's better in zero-g!"

Stine says some similarly curious NASA employees actually found out in a water tank used to practice weightlessness.

"Very, very late at night, there was a clandestine experiment conducted," Stine says. "The reports were, yes, it is indeed possible, but it helps to have a third person there to push at the right time and the right place.

"Then they discovered that this is the way the dolphins do it!"
And the Three Dolphin Club was created.
Stine claims he knows of seven occasions in the space shuttle where similar unscheduled dockings took place.

Has this been reported anywhere?
"Hell, no, it isn't reported, 'cause those astronauts would be fired!"
(About two dozen women have ventured into space on the shuttle, but NASA spokesman Ed Campion says he knows of no such experiments--official or unofficial--and has never heard of theThree Dolphin Club. "Amusing story, but as far as I know, it isn't true," he says.)

Tales of weightless dalliances notwithstanding, Stine is serious about his work. And he's taken seriously by experts like Lori Garver, executive director of the National Space Society--Hugh Downs' organization--who says Stine is the visionary in his field.

Stine settled in Phoenix in 1973 to write and pontificate on the inevitability of privatized space travel.

"What we were doing, going to the moon, was basically for national security, national prestige purposes," he says. "There was nothing beyond the Apollo program, in terms of a real space program. And the government isn't going to continue to spend money on this forever, so we better figure out a way to make it happen."

In 1975, Tucsonans Carolyn and Keith Henson decided to build their own space colony. Mo Udall, who happened to be running for president at the time, liked the Hensons' ideas, and publicly endorsed them.

So the L-5 Society was created.
The name refers to L-5 Lagrangian point, one of five spots where the gravity of the earth and moon are equal; an object situated there would stay put, balanced. Thus, the L5 Society theorized, it would be the perfect spot for a space colony.

And the goal of the L-5 Society was to construct a space colony--tens of miles across, possibly built out of materials mined from asteroids and the moon.

L-5 chapters popped up all over the country; membership reached 10,000 by the lateSeventies. It sounds far-fetched, but consider the times. The United States was experiencing an energy crisis, and the first consciousness of environmentalism. These people figured they'd need off the planet, and fast.

They weren't the only dreamers. The National Space Institute was created in 1974 with the goal of convincing NASA to promote commercial space travel.

When President Ronald Reagan signed the Commercial Space Act of 1984, encouraging free enterprise in space, one group jumped onboard immediately. Society Expeditions, an adventure-tourism company in Seattle, offered trips to Antarctica and other exotic places, so why not to outer space?

The group called it Project Space Voyage. Its initial plan was to put 20 people in the cargo bay of the space shuttle, but safety was a concern. Program director Colette Bevis issued a request for proposals. She received nine "serious" offers, and ultimately a model for a spaceship called the Phoenix was chosen. The vehicle would lift and land vertically, flying into low orbit and back.

The price was $50,000, with a $7,000 deposit and collection of the rest beginning October 12, 1992, when the Phoenix was to take its first passengers into space.

Bevis says 252 people paid the $7,000--with $5,000 going into a refundable escrow account and the remaining $2,000, nonrefundable, going into Society Expeditions' bank account.

"We had people taking out three mortgages on their homes!" she recalls.
More than 1,500 travel agencies participated in the marketing scheme, including Starworld Travel in Scottsdale, owned and operated by Joe Arpaio and his wife, Eva. (Sheriff Joe refuses to speak about his starry-eyed offer; a spokesman says he peddled the trips, but never sold any, and that Eva runs the travel agency now. Eva didn't return New Times' call. Bevis says she can't access her records to confirm whether the Arpaios actually sold any space junkets.)

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