Space Case

Arizonans start packing for the final frontier.

It reads like a premise ripped from the pages of a Robert Heinlein paperback: Two brothers decide that Arizona should have its own space program.

If it were a sci-fi novel, they'd be visionaries. But in real-world Arizona, they're just two guys who are learning that dreams don't always come true on the first try.

The Perrine brothers' dream: to create a new state space agency that would get Arizonans into space and on to the moon and Mars, without raising taxes.

Even their names could be paperback literary allusions. David Samson Perrine and his brother Hercules are chairman and treasurer respectively of the AZ2MARS campaign committee. In May, they applied at the Arizona Secretary of State's Office to collect signatures for the Citizens Space Initiative, their baby.

Their 101,762-signature deadline to make the 2002 state ballot is July 4.

David says he wants to build the program grass-roots style, resting on the shoulders of volunteers rather than in the pockets of big spenders. As of last week, though, they had collected only a few hundred signatures and had fewer than a dozen volunteers.

If the petition ball hasn't started rolling by January 1, David said that he'll abort the mission and try again the next election cycle.

The initiative would create some competition for NASA, which David says has mismanaged space exploration.

"Right now we're just sitting around being fat and lazy saying the next corner is too far and there's nothing interesting up there anyway," David said. "NASA has this attitude that these are their toys and we can't play with them."

This was most recently apparent when NASA snubbed financier Dennis Tito, who paid $20 million to catch a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket, he said.

IF PASSED, THE ARIZONA Citizens Space Commission's first mission would be to establish manned orbital space flight by "any means reasonably calculated."

The commission would also have the authority to sell advertising and naming rights and sign merchandising agreements to raise money. It would also have the authority to enter into public-private partnerships to get the job done.

As David sees it, "any means reasonably calculated" is a fancy way of saying "ingenuity."

"We have such a huge amount of available cash from a variety of resources that you really don't need to take people's money against their will and put it towards this sort of program," he said. "You just need a focus around which people can rally. Build it and people will come."

A 31-year-old telephone support assistant for a pharmacy in Glendale, David's done a lot of brainstorming. Off the top of his head, the commission could sell t-shirts and action figures in the same spirit as Diamondback jerseys and bobble heads to raise dough.

Once in space, the commission could set up a deal with a mortuary and launch people's ashes into the sky. The commission could sell naming rights and accept money from space tourists.

"You establish the Arizona space program, then go looking for sponsors, looking for people who have interests that coincide with what you're doing," David said. "You go out and market every square inch of every launch vehicle you build. You turn it into a NASCAR in space. I don't care if the space station looks like a giant Pepsi can, if it's up there. That's what counts."

Another key element of the initiative is that it mandates that the program be open to the average citizen rather than the science and military elite. When it becomes practical, the commission must select a citizen observer at random to tag along on every flight it sponsors.

"Anyone who says they're going to be an astronaut when they grow up is thought to be unrealistic," he said. "It's like someone saying they want to be president; you can pretty much guarantee it's not going to be who's talking. We need something that will get the average person interested in space and positive about the future."

The program does not run off tax dollars. Instead, initial funding will come from Arizona taxpayers who check a $5 donation box on state income tax forms. It's the same mechanism that is expected to raise $2.6 million for the Citizens Clean Election Fund in 2002.

"The check-off box on the income tax form is like you're voting for the space commission every time you send in your taxes," said Arizona Department of Transportation attorney Bill Bishop, who drafted the initiative. "There's nothing in the bill that mandates the legislature fund it."

BUT THE CHECK BOX wouldn't raise nearly enough to build a shuttle, let alone send it into space. All the program would need is a creative executive director who's willing to take risks, David said.

Once orbital space flight's in the bag, the Space Commission would shift its efforts to conquering the moon and, after that, Mars. By the time the commission begins establishing permanent colonies, as the initiative mandates, the program should be self-sufficient.

Eventually, Bishop muses, the commission could begin selling extraterrestrial real estate. Of course, he said, this would be decades in the future and would probably involve a lot of lobbying of the U.N.

"The business possibilities are endless," David said. "You could have a robot rover write people's names in the lunar sand all day for $25 or so a piece," David said. "It would basically be a perpetual motion machine, solar powered, continuously cranking out money. You could take an Energizer bunny up there and make commercials."

His 27-year-old brother, Hercules, isn't as optimistic. Space exploration could give rise to space exploitation, he said.

"From my perspective, it could have both positive and negative consequences," Hercules said. "If we bring human behavior to other planets, we could make the same mistakes we're doing now on Earth. If the right people get into space and make sure pollution and corruption doesn't happen, they wouldn't replicate those mistakes."

But it's only fitting that as a frontier people, Arizonans should be the ones to explore the final frontier, Hercules said. Arizona is also well suited for the industry, attracting big aerospace and high-tech companies, not to mention its year-round good weather, he added.

If it works in Arizona, David thinks other states will follow suit. The economic impact of a new interstate, interstellar space race would be astronomical, he said.

David is a member of medieval battle reenactment group the Society for Creative Anachronisms and a designer of Renaissance-era clothing. Hercules is about to finish his second poetry collection and a science-fiction novel. Above their computer hang a Tomb Raider poster and a Star Trek wall clock, and their Internet browser is bookmarked to UFO and crop circle Web sites.

They're the guys who ask "what if" and they know the scene. But even the science-fiction convention folk met the initiative with ambivalence, David said.

"It ranged from rancid enthusiasm in one or two people to intense skepticism in others," David said. "I would've thought the sci-fi community would've jumped on it and run with it. They're convinced it can't be done with anything short of the federal government. They think it's just impractical."

If the sci-fi community has written the initiative off as impractical, then it's no surprise the Perrine brothers have not encountered much enthusiasm from companies that would stand to profit most, like Motorola, Honeywell and Boeing. On the other hand, Space Adventures Ltd., the travel agency that arranged Tito's trip, voiced interest at one point but never followed up.

"It's been more lukewarm than I expected," he said. "Some of the mindsets I can't understand. They say they want money spent on people on this planet before outer space. Outside the conventions, people say money needs to be spent on education first.

"But the problem with education isn't money, it's mismanagement. Kind of like the space program."

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