Unlike NASA, Walker, a Bend, Oregon toy inventor, can’t afford to build and launch test rockets. The first one he builds is the one he’ll fly in. He will be his own monkey.
June 13, 2001 12:59 AM   Subscribe

Unlike NASA, Walker, a Bend, Oregon toy inventor, can’t afford to build and launch test rockets. The first one he builds is the one he’ll fly in. He will be his own monkey. Aren't we all? God, I hope he pulls this off. Let's take rocketry out of the hands of guys who miss Mars all the time with space probes and back into the hands of backyard inventors. If Goddard could do it, why not Walker? Suborbital flight from his own yard. (And yes, I know Goddard never went suborbital.)
posted by Ezrael (29 comments total)
Backyard invention is fine, and this guy in particular may be safe, but I'm glad there aren't many like him. I don't want to live next to a guy whose hobby might require him to stockpile huge drums full of rocket fuel, test homemade rocket engines in his garage, and fire thousands of pounds of metal into the air. I also don't want to meet anyone like him accidentally bursting through the floor beneath my seat on a commercial flight.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 AM on June 13, 2001

Yeah, it's a good thing nobody does anything that deviates from our safe little norms anymore.

pracowity, while everything you said could be taken as prudent (except that you didn't read the article...he isn't using rocket engines or fuel, but rather compressed hydrogen peroxide, and he will most likely have to file a flight plan with the FAA) it's surprising to me that you don't see something inspiring in what is, at least to me, a classic example of the slightly bugshit American inventive spirit.

I mean, come on, he's going to strap himself into a homemade rocket powered by stuff most people use to bleach their hair and shoot himself into suborbital space.

That's just cool. Forget the societal implications for a minute and just imagine that. Afterwards, we can go back to worrying.
posted by Ezrael at 1:58 AM on June 13, 2001

I have to say, I meant that to sound less sarcastic and more convivial than it sounded. I just want this thread to be a happy place where we can imagine a future filled with people building the giant equivalent of those red plastic rockets that you pump until they launch.

I mean, isn't it interesting that a toy inventor would come up with a design so reminiscent of a toy? Sometimes, the truth will out.
posted by Ezrael at 2:03 AM on June 13, 2001

I think this is a lot better then the those rich bastards and their damn ballons.
posted by john at 2:12 AM on June 13, 2001

Not only does the rocket run on bleach, but the astronaut "seems to be sunning on piss and vinegar".

I sure hope this thing doesn't blow up in the atmosphere!

Jokes aside though, good on the guy. I hope he makes it.
posted by davehat at 3:43 AM on June 13, 2001

Hmmm, should read "seems to be running on.....". Guess I got caught in a post haste.......
posted by davehat at 3:48 AM on June 13, 2001

I said:

> Backyard invention is fine, and this guy in particular
> may be safe, but I'm glad there aren't many like him.

I have nothing against him alone. Alone. But I'm glad there aren't thousands of other guys planning to launch their own very large homemade missiles into the air. One likes hydrogen peroxide; another figures, hell, if old-fashioned kerosene was good enough for the Saturn 5, it's good enough for his Saturn 6.2b. One goes way out into the desert; another tries it from his mobile launcher in the park. One files flight plans; another reckons it's safe because he doesn't see anything coming.

In any case, I wish him luck, but I expect to read about someone accepting a Darwin Award for him (because, of course, no winner ever makes it to the ceremony).
posted by pracowity at 3:55 AM on June 13, 2001

he isn't using rocket engines or fuel

Hydrogen peroxide (90%) is a rocket fuel and is not pleasant.

But hey, some people use it for enemas...
posted by andrew cooke at 4:11 AM on June 13, 2001

That's so cool. More power to him. I'll be looking for this story next year.
posted by starvingartist at 5:35 AM on June 13, 2001

All I see are ROGUE MISSILES! We can't get that NMD built fast enough.

Will it work on missiles launched from Manhattan, Kansas to Manhattan Island?
posted by Dick Paris at 5:55 AM on June 13, 2001

> Will it work on missiles launched from Manhattan, Kansas,
> to Manhattan Island?

And on missiles from Ireland? Run for your lives! Brogue missiles!

posted by pracowity at 6:23 AM on June 13, 2001

I see a Darwin award in someone's future.
posted by keli at 6:33 AM on June 13, 2001

Personally, I don't think this guy should get a Darwin award if he dies. He seems to have the whole thing pretty well worked out, and he's doing all he can to do it right and properly. He's not going off half-cocked, welding garbage cans together into a cylinder and using diesel fuel to take off. Yes, it's unorthodox and he may not make it, but it seems to me the spirit of the Darwin award is one of "Boy, were you stupid! You screwed up spectacularly! You're a grade-A doofus, and you killed yourself in the process! Congratulations!" I don't think this guy is a grade-A doofus. He's a dreamer, and that is becoming a rare thing indeed.
posted by starvingartist at 6:41 AM on June 13, 2001

I think killing yourself in a homemade rocket rates pretty highly in the screwing up spectacularly stakes myself. Remember that evolution isn't really into notions like "dreamers"...

I'd also question whether being a "dreamer" is that rare a beast. Maybe people don't want to be starving artists, but that doesn't mean they don't have their own goals and ideals. Dreams can be private (and I, for one, prefer them that way).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:02 AM on June 13, 2001

Sorry, I meant that big dreamers who actually go out and try to make their dreams come true, flying in the face of all who naysay. What if Goddard had been a private dreamer and never really tried to make his rockets fly? What if Edison had been a private dreamer? What if Bill Gates had been a private drea... never mind, scratch that one :)

I just don't think this guy belongs in the same category as the dipwad who strapped a dozen weather balloons to his lawn chair and used a bb gun as a descent device.
posted by starvingartist at 7:22 AM on June 13, 2001

And by the way, "homemade" does not mean "ramshackle". I have a fraternity brother who regularly participates in those "robot wars" games (I forget the exact name right now). I would hardly call some of those things ramshackle, but they are by definition homemade. Just because this guy doesn't have NASA's resources doesn't mean he doesn't have the capability of building a viable rocket.
posted by starvingartist at 7:24 AM on June 13, 2001

> Just because this guy doesn't have NASA's resources
> doesn't mean he doesn't have the capability of building
> a viable rocket.

With all of NASA's resources -- lots of brains and lots of testing -- they still screw up and blow up regularly. And he's going to send himself up in the first one he builds?

"He will be his own monkey -- just as he will be his own mission control, copilot, draftsman, flight engineer, pressurized-fuel-tank maker and sectional-fin engineer and builder, not to mention publicist. "

And maybe he'll cremate himself, scatter his own ashes, and start his own brush fire. (Will the twelve Hooters girls have to pour the champagne just to put him out?)
posted by pracowity at 8:03 AM on June 13, 2001

I read this when it popped up on slashdot and I think at least the reporter was stoned. The article is peppered with some pretty strange exchanges, like advising him to shut off his cuckoo clock or this nugget they should have edited out:

"You know," I offer. "You can buy that stuff at the drugstore pretty cheap." Walker carefully explains that the drugstore variety is about 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. He needs 90-percent purity.

or this

"Look at all the gray in my beard there." I look at the TV and back over at Walker. The gray is gone. "I’m using Just for Men," he confides merrily. "It’s not sissy, cuz it’s... just for men."

Okay the second one is a little funny, but the whole article feels like they started out the session by 'investigating' Walker's homemade hookah.

As for Darwin award status, definately. Its not the do-it-yourself approach that bothers me as much as the do-it-yourself-but-don't-do-any-testing methodology that'll lead to a spectacular, hopefully televised, demise. On the other hand a trip to space via Celestis is only a couple grand.
posted by skallas at 9:46 AM on June 13, 2001

My problem is not so much with this guy potentially killing himself, it's more with with him taking out others. Even if they check the flight schedules and make sure there will be no planes in the area, he might go five miles up and twenty-five miles left. He may decide to eject, but then the poor guy would have just left a build-your-own missile perhaps hurtling towards some poor family's house. He said he may listen to 'Space Oddity' while he's up there. I think a more apt choice would be 'Major Tom.'
posted by crustbuster at 11:24 AM on June 13, 2001

The article didn't mention his website? Hmmm...
posted by shinybeast at 12:08 PM on June 13, 2001

I think this guy should get a Darwin award
posted by FreeSpeech at 1:37 PM on June 13, 2001

crustbuster, I think you are referring to the same song. "Space Oddity" is by David Bowie, and the two verses are a conversation between Ground Control and Major Tom. The first verse is Major Tom saying how great everything is, the second verse is Ground Control saying something's gone wrong. Unless there really is a song called "Major Tom"?

Anyways, I think this guy deserves more credit than he's getting here. So what if he's a kook? At least he's attempting to do what he wants to do. He's doing it over a dead lake bed in Oregon, and I would think that if what he were doing were illegal, somebody would step in to prevent him. What's to say that the Space Shuttle won't go 5 miles up and 25 miles to the left and crash land in a trailer park? Nothing, really. If he dies, he dies, and I'll personally deliver the Darwin award to his next of kin. But if he survives, I'm going to be saying "I told you so" for a long time to come.
posted by starvingartist at 1:56 PM on June 13, 2001

starvingartist, Peter Schilling recorded sort of a techno version of Space Oddity in 1983 under the name "Major Tom (Coming Home)". The lyrics are changed, but the idea and some of the phrasing is the same.

crustbuster: No, he's not going to hit a plane, because if there was any risk of that the FAA wouldn't give him permission to launch. Furthermore, he's talking about launching this thing in eastern Oregon, which is basically hundreds of miles of nothing. I'm sure he'll have no problem finding a launch site thirty miles from the nearest building. I'd guess he's more likely to kill someone in his car on the road to the launch site than he is in his rocket.

posted by Mars Saxman at 3:00 PM on June 13, 2001

Maybe this isn't the right place to ask but I'm sure I remember a TV series about some people who built a rocket in their junkyard. What the hell was it?
posted by davidgentle at 3:28 PM on June 13, 2001

Salvage 1.
posted by kindall at 3:39 PM on June 13, 2001

What's scary is that the IMDB thinks that if you liked Salvage 1, you'll also like this. Which might be true, but it's mighty odd nonetheless.
posted by kindall at 3:45 PM on June 13, 2001

How strange, kindall.
posted by john at 3:53 PM on June 13, 2001

And then of course, there's Explorers starring Ethan Hawke.
posted by keli at 3:54 PM on June 13, 2001

posted by davidgentle at 3:47 PM on June 14, 2001

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