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Essays - Theories and Opinions

My Visionary Garage Space Scientist

By Melissa Peterman
February 1, 2005

My grandfather has been infatuated with space for as long as I can remember. On family camping trips when I was young, he'd point to the night sky and softly tell my brother and me the strange names of the stars. Then he'd look at us with wide, smiling eyes and ask, "What do you believe is out there?"

My grandpa thought there was plenty out there and set about inventing ways to find it. His garage was, and still is, a mechanic's dream, filled with overflowing boxes, engine parts, tools and crates pungent with grease and metal. While other grandfathers took their grandkids fishing, we played around with magnets and bits of steel and watched grandpa make "life" from inanimate parts of motors and engines. Some of these creations were contraptions for making contact with extraterrestrials.

If anyone could do it, I figured it was my grandfather. He was a laser engineer for Boeing and it wasn't unusual for him to win cash prizes for the best idea out of the "invention idea box" submitted by employees. Besides working with planes, he was also a train, semi truck and ship mechanic, and sometimes he fixed engines the size of buildings. When he wasn't working, he could be found repairing a neighbor's air conditioner or a family member's car, or designing blueprints for a spaceship.

His passion for space began in Grants Pass, Oregon. As a teenager there, my grandfather says he saw a UFO. The way he tells it, he was repairing a roof with his brothers and father when a large silver spinning saucer hovered in the sky high above the house. He said the saucer visit lasted about 45 minutes. "It must have been 300 miles across," he tells me. "I knew it wasn't moving because I watched it though the tree limbs." He claims a neighbor one mile away saw it too. Interestingly, the area has become a bit of a hotspot for UFO buffs. I checked with the local newspaper, the Grants Pass Courier, and they have several published reports of sightings that go back decades, including a few alleged UFO photos.

These days my grandpa not only searches for extraterrestrials, he's looking for other people to do it with. Every year he takes his motor home on the road to attend space conventions. He's been as far as away as Colorado and Montana, where he finds kindred spirits to discuss the topics that happily consume him — from off-the-grid, or "free energy," to space aliens. He tells me with absolute certainty that he has met others on these journeys that have created spaceships or made "contact."

My grandpa is part of a subculture of believers that's bigger than one might expect. He listens to the nightly radio show, Coast to Coast AM, with George Noory. Noory recently replaced the show's longtime host, Nevada-based conspiracy theorist and radio broadcaster Art Bell. With a listenership of more than 180 million people every week, Noory explores topics from Bigfoot to alien visitations. And Noory believes there's more going on "out there" than the government wants us to know. Thousands of fans make on-air calls to share amazing and unbelievable "what ifs."

Their claims may be far-fetched to the skeptical. But on the matter of extraterrestrials, who's to say? There are billions of stars in our galaxy, and more star-filled galaxies beyond that. There's plenty of room for alien life.

And even if my grandfather never gets his spaceship off the ground, at least he hasn't lived his life sitting on the sofa clutching a remote control. He's doing what explorers do. He's doing what the Wright Brothers did to get a plane in the sky, and what NASA scientists did to get a man on the moon. He's imagining the possibilities, and that's always worthwhile. Who knows, he just might find what he's looking for.


Melissa Peterman Melissa Peterman is a freelance writer living in Seattle.