The date was November 10th, 2020, and nearly a year into a global pandemic, Zoom calls and Google meetings had become commonplace. However, on this night, the conference about to take place, and the people in attendance were anything but common.
Unlike the countless online meetings held since last Spring, this first-ever Alternative Propulsion Energy Conference (APEC) would bring together Harvard University-trained PhDs, former and current National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) Scientists, veteran engineers from places like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and put them in the same (virtual) place with fringe theorists and “garage” hobbyists, all with the common goal of trying to understand and hopefully conquer one of the most fundamental forces in our universe: gravity.
“The Alt Propulsion community is highly intersectional, and we’re sandwiched between the aerospace, defense, electrical engineering, physics, UFOs, and ‘frontier science’ cultures,” said the conference’s moderator and organizer Tim Ventura in an email to The Debrief. “We have folks from all of these cultures who visit the conference and present, and despite the fact that these various communities don’t always agree on some topics. We’ve been able to avoid conflict.”
That same mission is echoed on the conference’s website.
“Our conference presenters and attendees include a diverse collection of Ph.D.physicists, engineers & garage-experimenters who have come together in a single forum. [They] range from theoretical physicists publishing peer-review papers on quantum & relativity theory to gravity-hackers trying to reverse-engineer UFOs in their garage.“
However, the site cautions, as if giving a hint to its outside-the-box nature, “We respect theoretical physics, but we’re an engineering conference, which means we’re always on the lookout for new experimental methods.”
The Motivation to Defy Gravity
As fundamental as gravity may be, open discussions on how to reverse its effects have drifted away from respected scientists like Nikola Tesla in the early part of the 20th century and toward the outer fringes of so-called pseudoscience in the early 21st. This gradual yet relentless shift has caused most present-day researchers to avoid the topic altogether, refusing to risk their reputations and careers working on something most of their colleagues feel should remain in the realms of science fiction.
Unsurprisingly, just like many of the guilty intellectual pleasures in which scientists like to dabble secretly, this environment has created a sort of “invisible college” where like the one built around the UFO phenomenon, highly educated and credentialed physicists and engineers can discuss their anti-gravity theories and experiments without the risk of public shame.
According to Mark Sokol, APEC’s founder and the top tinkerer over at New Jersey-based Falcon Space, this anti-gravity version of an invisible college first took place via snail mail, then chat rooms, and finally email, where it more or less resided until that November 10th premier event.
“In this community, there’s a couple of different email lists that go around. It’s kind of like a WhatsApp conversation, only via email,” Sokol told The Debrief. “So I combined a couple different email lists for the first conference.”
And, Sokol says, it was also during the preparation for that first conference that he started to realize the impressive group of people he was trying to bring together.
“I combined a couple of these lists, and it turned out like half of NASA was in one of them,” Sokol told The Debrief with a chuckle. “And DARPA. A whole bunch of high-up people I’ve never heard of before were on the other one.”
In August of 2021, The Debrief obtained a copy of that first email invitation, and what it contained appears to back up this seemingly incredible claim.
But more on that later.
“How did APEC start?” asked Tim Ventura in an email to The Debrief. “Mark attended the Estes Park Conference by Jim Woodward and Hal Fearn, which was held online using Zoom because of the Pandemic. He astutely realized there was an opportunity to expand on this idea to serve the entire community, so we began working on a regularly scheduled Zoom conference capable of serving the larger ‘alt propulsion’ community.”
Still, as adventurous as Sokol may be, a quality highlighted repeatedly in a previous Debrief feature chronicling his own ongoing anti-gravity experiments, the wide-eyed, wilder-haired, enthusiastic hobbyist who seemingly offers a glimpse into what Emmett “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future may have looked like in his 30s, admitted that the taboo associated with this subject was a concern even before the first conference took place.
“It was originally going to be called the Anti-Gravity Conference,” said Sokol, “but we thought anti-gravity had too much of a negative association to it.”
By this point, the conference’s would-be founder was starting to realize he needed an expert and trained veteran to take the reins. And he had only one person in mind.
The Host with the Anti-Gravity Most
“I knew even before I met him that Tim Ventura had to be the host,” Sokol told The Debrief. In fact, he says, that trust came into play at their very first APEC planning meeting.
“Tim told us a flashy logo won’t work. That it [this community] is low-key, grown naturally. People like mellow. So I took that advice and literally threw out my entire invite page that I was working so hard on.”
As it turned out, Ventura later told The Debrief, he knew he was all in even before the end of that first planning session. However, he also wanted to ensure that the work he and others had done in this community for 20-plus years would survive such a bold move to a unified, bi-weekly conference.
“Mark Sokol approached me about doing a conference last year because my work at American Antigravity has served as a community focus for bleeding-edge propulsion technologies,” Ventura told The Debrief. “From 2002 to 2007, American Antigravity did international radio & television broadcasts on this topic, and saw millions of visitors a year.”
During this time, Ventura explained, he performed “foundational interviews with key figures on this area,” which allowed him to build a strong reputation within the community.
“That being said,” Ventura added, “2007 was a long time ago! Both myself and many of the people I worked with back then have moved on to other projects, and American Antigravity has taken on an archival role.”
“I’m not interested in fame,” concluded Ventura, “but I do want to preserve the interviews that I did, as they are still used as reference material by people in the community.”
And just like that, with a new host and professional conference organizer on board, Sokol suddenly realized that the first, unified anti-gravity conference run by the exact group of people he believed could pull it off was no longer just a vision in his head but a real-life plan becoming a reality.
The Perfect Invitation meets the Perfect Guest List
Heeding Ventura’s advice regarding simplicity over style, the first APEC conference email invite was short and to the point, with a subject line that read: “INVITE ONLY: 8:30pm EST TONIGHT, Open Zoom Discussion at the Antigravity Labs.”
Further heeding Ventura’s advice, the message inside the email was equally brief.
“To whom this may concern. We’ll be having an impromptu live discussion at our labs while we work on various “Antigravity” experiments. Feel free to join in the discussion.”
That was all. No bells, no whistles, just a private invitation to what would turn out to be the first of 22 (and counting) invitation-only alternative propulsion conferences featuring speakers like NASA and DARPA Warp Drive Pioneer Harold G. Sonny White (who was on that first email list), Former NASA Engineer and veteran of that organization’s only official anti-gravity research Glen “Tony” Robertson, controversial EmDrive inventor Robert Shawyer, and even more controversial Alien Reproduction Vehicle (ARV) pied piper Mark McCandlish, just to name just a few.
A quick scan of past speakers on the APEC website reveals nearly equally exhaustive lists of distinguished scientists and fringe theorists all in the same place and all talking about more or less the same thing; defeating gravity.
Of the 71 names and email addresses that The Debrief could verify, 16 were indeed current or former NASA scientists and engineers. Another 14 were professionally affiliated with major universities like Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Pennsylvania State University (Penn St), and the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), as well as a number of others. There were no official DARPA email accounts listed, but a little searching found that at least a handful of the highly educated and credentialed independent researchers on the list worked for companies that had DARPA contracts.
There were also four veterans of the United States Army Research Laboratory and the AFRL, three from Lockheed Martin, two from the Aerospace Corporation, and even one engineer from SpaceX. There were also three members of the media invited, including noted aerospace author Nick Cook.
All told, 60 of the 71 verifiable email addresses were either legitimate media, veterans of major aerospace entities, or holders of advanced degrees in related fields. The final handful of attendees included hobbyists like Sokol and fellow Falcon Spacer (and conference co-founder) Jeremiah Popp, who were hoping to tap into the knowledge of these experts.
“We now have over 500 people in Mailchimp,” Ventura told The Debrief in a September 15th text message regarding APEC’s current membership roster, a sign of just how much the conference has grown in such a short time. “But the ‘core’ people are Mark Sokol, myself, & Jeremy Rys – with VERY frequent appearances by Todd Desiato, Jeremiah Popp & Wayne Ojala.”
Sokol echoed praise for the same group while making sure to focus his primary appreciation on Ventura. “Tim has taken over everything, and is doing an incredible job,” he said.
We Have Liftoff. Wait, Does Anti-Gravity Propulsion Have Lift?
With so much thought and effort put into the first meeting, it is not surprising that it went off without a hitch.
“APEC is the Woodstock of gravity modification research,” reads a quote on the conference’s website from frequent attendee and contributor Ron Kita. “I’d just like to give a big ‘Bravo’ to all of the contributors and hosts that helped make this remarkable event possible.”
“APEC is a unique environment where the vast knowledge and experience of its presenters can mix with a devoted group of independent researchers pursuing next-gen propulsion,” reads another website quote from Jacob Helvey of Frontier Gravity.
Since that first event, the conference and its core team haven’t missed a beat, steadily adding to a growing rotation of respected scientists and engineers speaking (and listening) alongside more than a few fringe thinkers.
“We’ve completed over 17 conferences online now, one every two weeks,” Ventura told The Debrief back in July, a number that has since grown to 22, “and we’ve stayed true to our original goals & vision for this event:
- Creating an inclusive community forum for alt propulsion that discusses innovative ideas in a supportive, non-judgmental way.
- Taking an engineering approach to these ideas based on reputable theoretical models with a strong focus on experimental validation.
- Honoring the history and legacy of innovators in this community who have worked tirelessly on these ideas for decades.
- Cross-pollinating unique avenues of research with theoretical & experimental data from other innovators.
- Helping to create an archive of innovation online to share with others through conference recordings on YouTube.
And Just When You Thought it was Over, the UFO & Star Trek Nerds Walked In
With speakers and conferences planned well into the future, Ventura says that he’s seen a significant shift in his group, one he feels adds to the growing urgency to understand the true nature of gravity, as well as learn how to tame it to humanity’s will.
“The biggest change that I’ve seen over the course of the conference is the growing importance of UFOs,” said Ventura. “In the past, everyone had an awareness of UFOs, but they weren’t highly relevant because they aren’t well understood. However, the emerging UAP story in mainstream news makes this a topic that can’t be ignored, and we are exploring them from a scientific perspective more frequently than in the past.”
Of course, if it were up to Sokol, they’d focus on adding competent engineers and tinkerers who, like himself, Popp, Ojala, and his other Falcon Space colleagues, believe the best way to move the discussion forward is to favor experimentation over theory whenever possible.
“We always need more engineers.” Sokol told The Debrief. “Make sure to put that in.”
As far as what it takes to get invited to APEC, a simple newsletter sign-up form on their website puts you on the email list. As to who can attend, the conference’s host made sure to reiterate that while the current roster is a diverse group, they (mostly) share a common trait.
“Not everybody at APEC plays with Star Trek dolls,” Ventura told The Debrief, “Just most of them.”
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction
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