Hotels in Outer Space & Phil Salin & the Rocket Co. in RWC

I am a big believer in outer space as the next real frontier. And I notice that billionaire businessman Robert Bigelow (see his website at is investing in a real hotel in outer space–as well as other space “widgets.”

Which reminded me of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society and some of the fascinating people who attended the Sunday jazz concerts in the 1970s– I was especially thinking of the brilliant Phil Salin, politically pure libertarian, and who with his equally brilliant friends set up the privately owned Rocket Company in Redwood City. His goal was to launch his own satellite at a time when only the government was doing it.

Phil Salin and his innovative friends relaxed at the Sunday jazz concerts at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. Pete Douglas, the “father” of the BDDS, always used to tell me about the physicists and engineers and big brains who came to hear the music and Phil was one of the them.

They were a non-drinking crowd who favored Pepsi and mineral water.

I never met Phil Salin; he died of cancer young after fighting for his life with everything he could find including alternative cures in Japan. I did meet his wife Gayle Pergamit, along with K. Eric Drexler and Chris Peterson, the authors of “Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution” (Morrow: 1991). Gayle took me in hand and I spent two days learning all about nanotechnology. She was teaching me; I don’t know if I was such a great student, though….

Gayle told me that Phil was a very smart visionary guy who loved challenges and was always steps ahead of everybody else. He was gregarioius; he was tall, 6’4″, 230 pounds. He talked with his hands as he grew enthusiastic about new ideas and projects.

One of Salin’s “rocket company” people, Kathy McGrade, was a metallurgist, who lived next door to the Bach. One of her jobs was to buy lots of big mixing bowls and large bags of sugar. When perplexed store clerks asked her what she was up to, she told them the truth: “We’re mixing rocket fuel.” They laughed but nobody believed she was serious.

Well, she was serious.

Phil Salin and the Rocket Co. people found a warehouse near the former Pacific Telephone tower, a local landmark in a little industrial area, predominantly welding and machine shops. Nearby there was a community of single family homes, a shopping center, a corner bar.

The Rocket Co. needed a place with very tall ceilings to accomodate a 55-foot tall vertical rocket. They wanted a barn but the warehouse they rented turned out to be perfect.

Members of the company introduced themselves to the authorities, to the fire marshall, and they gave tours.

When word spread about the rocket company, the locals said, “Building rockets in Redwood City?” People were concerned about hazardous materials–but Kathy McGrace assured the authorities that the common kitchen had mroe dangerous materials. The most dangerous stuff they had was paint, she said.

Still, you couldn’t blame the neighbors for wanting to see samples of the fuel, to have it tested, to see what was in it. They were terrified that the building was going to blow up.

[I will be adding more to this story. There were other interviews I want to add. Meanwhile see the email I received below.]

Hello June,

I’m not sure if this email address will work for you, since I am writing about an older article.

I just read the musings you wrote about my dear brother Phil, and his rocket company. I happened to google his name, since I have been thinking about him. It was his birthday earlier this month. I spotted your article- it was a very sweet read for me, and it was kind of you to write about him.

Thanks so much,

Pat Salin Huston