Choice Martian Real Estate. Agent: Richard Gary Griffing. Occupancy: Available Upon Arrival

UPDATED 07/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

Richard Gary Gritting has an idea that some might say is outlandish, others might say is out of this world. Claiming title to the planet Mars, he's selling plots of Martian real estate to those earthlings who yearn for something extra special as well as extraterrestrial. According to Gritting, 38, the deal is strictly on the up-and-up. Anyone can develop Mars, he argues, because the superpowers have agreed that no earth government can lay claim to space territory. "They dealt themselves out of this hand," he says. Jumping into the living-space race, Gritting filed a legal claim in February with the Maricopa County (Ariz.) recorder's office, offering a 100-square kilometer plot on Mars for a mere $19.95. You don't have to be a Plutocrat, in other words, to get in on the ground floor.

If is true that Gritting, who lives in Mesa, Ariz., is something of a prankster. Earlier this year he started a drive to name the then Governor of Arizona, archconservative Evan Mecham, President of South Africa. With the Martian stunt, however, he's making money. A former TV reporter, car dealer, radio deejay and pesticide salesman (in that order), Griffing has sold more than 1,000 parcels so far and supports himself and his third wife, Ruth Cash, on the $20,000 gross. "I bought a plot for my son," says Estelle Kret of Phoenix. "He's a computer whiz with a warped mind, and I knew he would love this birthday gift." Earl Misner plans to settle on his plot—as soon as he's released from a Minnesota prison where he's serving time for arson and armed robbery.

If Misner ever makes it to Mars, he will probably not find many of the amenities Griffing talks about, such as a greyhound track, hockey arena and a select set of neighbors. "I won't allow Sean Penn, G. Gordon Liddy, the phone company, those involved in changing the formula for Coca-Cola or the guy who hit my car to buy land," vows Griffing. Of course, there are certain drawbacks, like temperatures of 225°F below zero, but Griffing believes humans can adapt to extremes. "I figure anyone who can tolerate Phoenix in the summer could adjust to life on Mars," he says.

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