In 1987, when Sam Walton approached him about the possibility of setting up a company to produce NASA-related products, Louis Karabochos turned him down. The initial proposed product was a framed picture of the Challenger crew to be sold in Wal-Marts for $29.95. Karabochos's blunt response: "Nobody buys dead people at that price."

Karabochos was intrigued, however, by the prospect of creating products that use the image of astronauts, the "last American heroes," to entertain and educate children. Two years and $3 million in private savings later, he launched a company called Gateways to Space. Last month the Pleasanton, Calif., company was scheduled to introduce a series of 13 educational videotapes that blend live footage from NASA with animation featuring Smurflike characters called Astro Stars. But you won't find the tapes in the Wal-Marts of the world. They will instead be sold through grocery and drugstore chains, with each store limited to 72 tapes (per release) to create shortages and stimulate demand.

Fittingly, Karabochos's projections for Gateways to Space are astronomical: profitable within a month, first-year worldwide revenues of $51 million, and three-year revenues in excess of $1 billion. To reach such heights, he plans to develop an Astro Star line of trading cards, a Saturday morning cartoon, and two feature films.

-- Alessandra Bianchi