A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there was no "Sheriff" Joe Arpaio. But in the mid-1980s, there was a ex-DEA agent named Joe Arpaio who was selling flights into space from a Scottsdale travel firm.
New Times has written about Arpaio's former life as a space cadet on several occasions, and the Arizona Republic published an article in 1985 about the venture. We wouldn't have known about the latter reference if not for the fact that the Repub republished the article a few days ago.
The link to the republished article seems a bit gratuitous and random in the middle of a Political Insider blog column that ran on September 3, (which, mysteriously, is un-bylined). But it's plenty amusing enough that we wanted to share it with you.
Arpaio marketed the $52,000 trips to Earth orbit while working at his wife's business, Starworld Travel, which she still owns. He told the Republic that he wanted $5,000 in earnest money from each passenger and that he had so far received eight inquiries. Blast off was expected seven years later, in 1992.
The spacecraft was supposed to have been built by Society Expeditions and Pacific American Launch Systems, and would have taken off and landed vertically, like your average rocket in a Ray Bradbury story. Project Space Voyage, as the venture was called, never left the ground.
According to the above-linked 1996 New Times article:
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.
[Program Director Colette] 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.)
Project Space Voyage disintegrated after the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger cooled the public's desire for rocket rides. Tourism in space is seen as inevitable to some, though: Late last year, the Phoenix-based RocketShip Tours announced it would start taking reservations for relatively low-cost flights to the edges of Earth's atmosphere in a new-fangled rocket.
If Arpaio ever quits politics, he could always go back into business as a rocketman.