By PATRICK DOUGLAS
In his memoir the formative years of Model Rocketry 1957-1962, G. Harry Stine wrote the self observation, “It is not often that an aerospace historian has the opportunity to participate in the making of history,” that became quite prophetic to me after receiving a gift.
My interest in Stine’s life took shape about a year ago when my father-in-law gave me an old novel called Starship through Space, written by one Lee Correy.
Because it was printed in the early 1950s, the only thing I initially knew of the book was that it was old and appeared no different than any other used book that you could buy for a buck at a local used bookstore. But then I discovered that it was signed by the author, and the inscription had a personal and possibly historical message written inside:
“1 October 1954—White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, USA, Terra. To Margaret and the rest of the people of White Sands—who are doing the basic groundwork which may make this story come true—Cordially, Lee Correy (G. Harry Stine)”
The message in itself was intriguing, especially after I started researching the author. It turns out the book is an early glimpse at the life of a man who contributed greatly to the fledgling ideals of space exploration, as well as the hobby of model rocketry.
Fresh out of college, Stine, who oftentimes used Lee Correy as his pen name, went to work at White Sands Proving Ground, where he became Chief of the Controls and Instruments section of the Propulsion Branch; he tested liquid and solid propellant rockets for the Army and honed his knowledge of rockets.
According to his memoirs, Stine wrote science fiction in the evenings, which culminated into his first published “boys book,” Starship through Space, the very book I had sitting in my lap. He would go on to write 63 books, including the Star Trek story The Abode of Life.
The price being asked for unsigned copies of Starship through Space online led to more curiosity. On Amazon, a third edition was being sold for $164, while first editions, like the one I have, were going for around $250 or more. One website in particular had a price tag of $400, stating that the book was in “lovely” condition.
With such a high demand, and knowing that my signed copy with its enigmatic message must have a story behind it, I began sending out emails to find out just who Margaret was and if the book belonged in a museum rather than in my autograph collection.
Most of my emails came back with even more unanswered questions, but I did receive an interesting response from Terrie Cornell, curator of the White Sands Missile Range Museum.
“I think Margaret was in the White Sands Proving Ground Personnel Office,” said Cornell, adding that she was just giving me an educated guess. “I’ve heard many old-timers say they were hired by Margaret. She must have been quite a person, since everyone remembered her fondly.
“Harry Stine did indeed work out here and is considered the father of model rocketry,” she continued. “Like so many early folks here, he must have been a genius renaissance man. You have a wonderful book there. Treasure it!”
While her message was affirming of its importance, it still left me a bit confused as to the history of my book and the man people referred to as “The Old Rocketeer.”
I visited the website, questaerospace.com, and found documents written by Stine and his wife, Barbara, that painted the man’s legacy as not only a scientist and innovator, but also a humanitarian who wanted to help children have fun and be safe at the same time.
This led to trying to locate Barbara and I set about it nearly a year after receiving the book. After a bit of sleuthing, I found a number and with my fingers crossed, I called her at home.
“The book that he was most proud of was the Handbook of Model Rocketry,” she explained during our conversation. “That really started the whole model rocketry deal. I was secretary treasure for the first seven years and spent at least 40 hours a week running the organization out of our basement.”
Barbara shared stories of Stine, including why he originally went with a pseudonym in his early books. “The pen name was not a secret,” she said. “Everybody knew that when Harry was writing non-fiction, it was G. Harry Stine and when he couldn’t get a point across through the non-fiction area, he would write it as Lee Correy.”
The pseudonym was nixed later when Stine wrote his series of Warbots and Starsea Invaders books.
“His last 15 fiction books were published under the name of G. Harry Stine because the publisher thought that the name was better known than Lee Correy, which is kind of a goofy twist,” said a laughing Barbara.
Harry Stine turned down requests from Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry to write scripts for the show, according to Barbara.
“[Rodenberry] wanted him to write screenplays and he said, ‘No, I write books. That’s what I do. I don’t want to belong to the Screen Writers Guild anyway,’” she recalled. “He wanted the freedom to do what he wanted to do. He was good at writing books.”
As for the book I was researching, Barbara offered up some stories about its creation.
“There was a formula,” she said. “They don’t have that category anymore. This was like something that a young man who read the Boy Scouts’ Boys’ Life would read. There was a definite formula that he had to follow which doesn’t exist anymore. His hero had to be adventurous; sort of the rules don’t apply to him. He couldn’t smoke, he couldn’t drink and he didn’t have a girlfriend. That formula had to be adhered to for those first three books.”
Stine had a mentor in another great science fiction author, Robert Heinlein, whose most popular stories include Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers. Heinlein’s book, The Door into Summer, was based on a cat that the Stines gave him.
“The cat would sit by the door and complain because it was snowing and he didn’t want to go out in the snow,” she said, adding that the Heinlein book Have Spacesuit—Will Travel was dedicated to her and her husband.
“Bob Heinlein encouraged [Harry] and mentored him when he was in college,” Barbara said.
Stine’s contributions to the world of model rocketry brought it from an idea to a hobby that has spread internationally. His son, Bill Stine, has kept the tradition alive, coaching the United States team in the International Junior Model Rocket competitions, recently traveling to Spain for the event.
“He’s done it for a couple of years,” said Barbara of her son. “They didn’t used to have any competition internationally for the young people.”
As if all of this wasn’t enough for one man’s life accomplishments, Harry Stine is often given credit for coming up with the giving term “pay it forward,” which was made popular in the film of the same name starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.
What started out as an old book being passed from one person to another, turned into an education into a man’s existence and a revelation of value that makes it much more than a common used hardcover novel.
As for the Margaret who was referenced in the signature, her identity was made clearer after talking with Barbara Stine.
“He’s referring to the lady who was head of the physical science lab, where they had a program in which the students worked six months at White Sands and then six months at the lab and had hands on experience,” she said.
I now know that the book might not be something meant for a museum, but it’s certainly worthy of being a huge part of both my book and autograph collections, and I’m proud to have it. Stine died of a stroke on November 2, 1997, at 69 years old.
*The opening Stine memoir excerpt was used with permission from Barbara Stine.