updated 10/29/2003 2:45:58 PM ET 2003-10-29T19:45:58

Toy inventor Brian Walker has built a shoot-for-the-sky playground. Spread out over 13 acres here, you’ll find all the techno-ingredients of a homemade space program, including his own personal astronaut boot camp.

Space.com
ALONG WITH a booster, space capsule, launch pad and fuel-making facilities, the do-it-yourself rocketeer has also constructed a centrifuge, as well as the Multi-Axis Disorientation trainer, reverently called the MAD machine. Plans are in the works for a rocket sled, too.

Parked in one shop on the complex is a jet engine-propelled go-cart. About a mile away on Walker’s space base is a private runway and hangar — room for a two-seater ultralight trike, as well as a backpack-powered paraglider.

Top it off with a towering observatory housing a Meade 12-inch telescope that uses Global Positioning System satellite signals — well, you’ve got the picture.

His business card says it all: Brian Walker is the “Rocket Guy.”

MORE MODEST MISSILE

Walker has so far spent nearly $1 million on his passion for propulsion. “It gets a little frustrating. I’ve got a bunch of inventions that I’d like to be working on … because that’s how I’m funding everything,” he said.

A wall of command central in his “rocket garden” is adorned with the toys that brought him good fortune, such as the Pop-It Rocket and Air Bazooka. One hugely profitable plaything — the “bread and butter” of Walker’s kingdom — is the Light Chaser, picked up and sold in the millions by Disney.

When the self-made space traveler began the quest several years ago, the idea was to fly up 50 miles to the border of space. He has since stepped back from bankrolling a full-size rocket design to a more modest missile — one that shoots to 15,000 feet.

At the top of the trajectory, Walker plans to skydive from that altitude.

To date, no private citizen has ascended to such a vertical elevation in a rocket that wasn’t launched by the American, Russian or Chinese space agency. “So going out of sight and coming back down by parachute is a first. And that’s going to garner a ton of interest,” he told Space.com.

Walker is not gunning for the X Prize. That’s the worldwide competition to hurl passengers to the edge of space and snag a $10 million purse.

What appeals to Walker is building a client base of rocket riders, drawing from the skydiver community. Eventually, in step-by-step fashion, rockets toting skydivers and non-skydivers alike can be designed, built, and flown to ever-higher heights, he said.

“The kind of rocket I see for rocket skydiving, believe it or not, is a giant water rocket,” Walker said. The rocket would first zip up a lengthy vertical tower pushed by compressed air, giving it momentum.

That’s followed by the release of a huge volume of water, tossing the rocket into the sky. “What’s the chance of failure when you have a pressurized vessel with water, compressed air, and a cork in the bottom?” he asked.

“I’d like to see a commercial rocket skydiving operation … because you’re giving people the opportunity to experience vertical-launched accelerated flight. The business would flourish around the world,” Walker speculated. “Let’s start something that can generate profit. I can work hand-in-hand with the Federal Aviation Administration and not be a huge headache for them — just a small headache.

“I honestly believe that rocket skydiving would be far safer than airplane skydiving. There’s no question in my mind,” Walker said.

G-WHIZZING

The overarching plan of Rocket Guy is onward and upward under the banner of Project RUSH, short for “Rapid Up Super High.”

Walker has traveled to Russia to take part in cosmonaut training exercises, including uplifting bouts of microgravity and being whipped around in a centrifuge for cash. But the g-loads he was allowed to reach were not up to the g-whizzes he needed. Then there was the cost of the experience itself. So a home-built centrifuge was in order. “I can train in it whenever I want … for an extended period … to where I feel comfortable.”

Likewise, there’s the MAD machine. While it is meant to disorient the brain, it also teaches the eye-brain to fend off any “out of body” experience with nausea.

Walker’s cluster of equipment could be a model for a kind of space theme park, complete with a rocket ride for aspiring astronauts.

“I’d love to be involved in building the first commercial operation that has two or three launch towers, a centrifuge, MAD machine and rocket sled. People would come out and train. They’d do a little mini-astronaut training, then we’d shoot them up in a rocket to go skydiving,” Walker said.

AMATEUR ROCKET CLASS

Now near fully complete, the half-sized launcher is 17 feet (5 meters) in height and fits into the amateur rocket class, due to its fuel load and impulse. “There are no real rules or regulations written into the books about whether an amateur rocket can carry a person,” Walker noted.

The smaller rocket is to spearhead and test many of the systems and procedures to be used in the full-size booster.

For one, an onsite fuel distillation building is capable of cranking out 90 percent pure hydrogen peroxide. That liquid reacts with a silver catalyst screen in the rocket propulsion system to produce thrust. This fuel has just about one-third the energy of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, but is far safer for use in Walker’s rocket ideas.

In carting the rocket on a truck around town, Walker said he hangs a simple “right to bear arms” sign on the back: “I take my Second Amendment rights real seriously.”

SKYROCKET SETBACKS

It has been a long countdown for Walker to get off the ground. The past year served up a number of personal holds.

For one, a marriage fell apart. Walker’s new Russian bride left the scene shortly after she moved to America. “That just about ripped a whole section of my life away,” Walker said. Medical woes in both shoulders, aggravated by lifting, dragging and hauling hardware around the space compound, have also slowed the rocketeer and his plans.

Despite these setbacks, Walker’s skyjumping rocket campaign remains within grasp. Rocket engine test firings are slated for the near term.

The exact whereabouts of Walker’s rocket skydiving site is tightly held. It would be a logistical problem coping with crowds, he said, a bigger headache than the rocket launch itself.

On the day of liftoff, Walker will be standing vertical in the passenger-carrying section of his half-size test rocket. Suspended from a harness, he’ll be outfitted in an anti-g suit and wearing skydiving gear.

At the booster’s highest point, a handle is pulled, a door kicks off, and Brian “Rocket Guy” Walker’s skydiving adventure begins.

“All the big work is done,” he said. “Now it’s the little things. Just the plumbing.”

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