Issue Date: September 1, 2008
Early last month, the privately funded rocket Falcon 1 failed during launch, and all of its precious cargo was lost. The rocket, launched by the California-based space transportation company SpaceX, carried items of obvious scientific importance. Three satellites were on board, including one from NASA, dubbed NanoSail-D, that was equipped with an experimental solar sail (C&EN, July 28, page 67). The remainder of the nonscientific, yet equally important, items on board? The ashes of 208 people, of course.
Celestis, an affiliate of Space Services, in Houston, offers memorial space flights and FINAL RESTING PLACES for the cremated remains of space enthusiasts everywhere. According to the company's website, the firm will launch 1 g of a loved one's ashes into orbit around Earth for a mere $2,495. The ashes are safely stored in a small capsule "designed to withstand the rigors of space travel," says Susan Schonfeld, Celestis' spokeswoman.
Depending on flight conditions, the company estimates that the capsule, riding inside a canister bound to the rocket, could stay in orbit for anywhere between 10 and 240 years. Eventually, the orbiting canister will reenter Earth's atmosphere, burning up and "blazing like a shooting star in final tribute to the passengers aboard," Celestis says.
One passenger on the recent Falcon 1 flight was James Doohan, the actor who played the engineer Montgomery (Scotty) Scott in the TV and film series "Star Trek." Doohan, who had Alzheimer's disease, died in 2005. To fulfill a request in his will, his family has been trying to send his remains into space for some time. Prior to the recent launch, there were a number of delays and two failed test flights for SpaceX's Falcon 1. "The act of sending a loved one's remains into space will someday be commonplace, even if we have to book a space flight ourselves to make it happen," Doohan's son Ehrich said in a statement.
Schonfeld tells Newscripts that Falcon 1 did technically reach space, and for some families that's enough. For those who want to make another attempt at closure, Celestis offers a second flight free of charge. "We always request more cremated remains than what we need in case there is a failure," Schonfeld says. And future Earth orbital flights are already scheduled.
But Doohan's family could also opt for a more permanent memorial and send another portion of his ashes to the surface of the moon. This year, Celestis announced that it was teaming with both Odyssey Moon Ltd. and Astrobotic Technology to provide lunar memorial services. Considerably more expensive than an orbital space flight, the service to the moon will cost $9,995 for 1 g of cremated remains.
Odyssey Moon and Astrobotic are shooting for the moon because they have entered the Google Lunar X Prize contest, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon. To win, a team must successfully land its robot, drive the robot 500 meters, and transmit images and data back to Earth. Celestis' memorial capsules will be attached to the team's robotic lunar rover, which will be soft-landed on the moon, Schonfeld tells Newscripts. Once there, the ashes will remain on the rover, creating the ultimate memorial to the space-minded passengers. Celestis says capsules could be launched as soon as 2009.
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