First Space Funeral

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On this day in 1997, the world’s first space funeral took place when a rocket ship blasted into space carrying the ashes of 1960s icon Timothy Leary, the creator of Star Trek Gene Roddenberry, physicist and space activist Gerard O’Neill, rocket engineer and would-be extraterrestrial coloniser Krafft Arnold Ehricke, and others. This collection of far out intellectuals were each cremated on Earth prior to the flight and small portions of their ashes were rocketed beyond the atmosphere. A cylinder containing their ashes apparently orbited the Earth for five years.

The flight, which took off from the Canary Islands in the North Atlantic, was operated by Celestis Inc., which today offers the orbiting service for a mere $2,995 and up. Celestis is a Texas, USA-based subsidiary company of Space Services Inc., which provides star naming services for those wanting to provide their orbiting love ones with some familiar names in the great unknown.

The process by which Celestis launches the ashes into space begins with just a small portion of the post-cremation remains—for launching an entire urn of ashes would be cost prohibitive—which are sealed individually and loaded into the spacecraft. Customers can choose from a variety of packages ranging from a return service, in which the capsule of ashes leaves the atmosphere for a short period before returning to Earth, to the full hog: a deep space experience, in which one’s remains can be blasted beyond the gravitational forces of the Earth-Moon system, to forever float in the darkness beyond—or perhaps, if you’re lucky, to discover a black hole.

Celestis, by the way, makes no mention of the so-called “janitor” satellite currently in creation in Switzerland with the purpose of orbiting the Earth to collect “space debris.” Perhaps this is something to enquire about when booking the orbit service.

The 21 April flight, dubbed the “Founders Flight,” was the first of almost a dozen flights planned by Celestis between 1997 and the end of 2012. Other companies have picked up on the idea, one, Columbiad Launch Services, even hoping to skip the rocket nonsense by launching your loved one’s remains into space using “gun propulsion technology.”

Thus far, the idea seems to have had a limited following. However, along with the well known personalities on the initial flight, a number of astronauts, actors, and fans have had their remains beamed up, including James Doohan who played Scotty in Star Trek.

Credit: Image courtesy of Celestis.com
Caption: The rocket from the Founder’s Flight takes off.