Wanna Get Buried In Space?

Of course, dying on Mars might be cause for a burial there. And it’s not out of the question that some astronauts would call for their remains to be scattered in space, not brought back to Earth for burial.

But that doesn’t do Earth-bound you much good. Space burials have been happening since 1997. Cremated ashes of the deceased are placed in a capsule the size of a tube of lipstick and launched into orbit aboard a rocket. The remains would circle the Earth between 10 and 240 years, until they descend back into the atmosphere where they burn up upon reentry.

Leaving Earth to touch the cosmos is an experience few have ever known, but many have often dreamed of. Celestis makes it possible to honor the dream and memory of your departed loved one by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains into Earth orbit, onto the lunar surface or into deep space.  Celestis helps families honor the memory of loved ones through unique, post-cremation memorial spaceflights.

The process is simple and completed with the utmost respect and care. A portion of cremated remains is carefully placed inside a permanently sealed, individual flight container, loaded into the Celestis, Inc. spacecraft and attached to the launch vehicle.

The dead who have been beamed up include James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek, the creator of Star Trek Gene Roddenberry, space illustrator Charles Oren Bennett, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, and Timothy Leary. Celestis, the only company that offers space burials, will bury 1 gram of your loved one’s ashes starting at $2,495. Burials in deep space cost approximately $12,500. It’s the ultimate post script for the space nerd in your life. Here’s the video pitch:

On launch day families gather at the liftoff site to share the experience of seeing their loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight realized. With a roar and a fiery streak across the sky, the rocket lifts its precious load higher and higher into the peaceful solitude of space.

Memories of the flight participants’ lives are shared among friends and family at the pre-launch memorial service and preserved on the keepsake video or DVD (included in the service), and biographical section of our Web site. Participants… Post Launch. After a successful launch, Celestis provides a professionally produced videotape or DVD of the entire event to the participant’s family or designee.

Launching cremated ashes can be profitable at current launch prices. Potentially a noticeable market even at a small share of the funeral market–there are about 10 million cremations per year, just in 12 or so industrialized nations. So if space burial captures 1% of these cremations , at the current price of $4800 , then revenues would be $480 million/year and mass to orbit something like 1400 kg/year (assuming the Celestis capsule containing 7g of ashes, 7g for the capsule itself, an unknown but seemingly small mass for the structures supporting the capsules, and a low earth orbit).

Celestis, Inc.

Celestis soon expects to be able to send “participants,” as the remains are called, to the surface of the Moon, starting at $9,995. For now, the only person to have the distinction of a lunar burial is Eugene Shoemaker, the astronomer and co-discoverer of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, whose remains landed there on July 31, 1999.

As with other space travel, malfunctions can sometimes result in catastrophe. In August 2008, 208 cremated remains were lost in the failure of a Falcon 1 rocket. In such events, however, Celestis pledges to relaunch more remains on another flight.

In the event of a failure during the first moon landing of Apollo 11, preparations were made for a space burial, somewhat akin to a burial at sea. Thanks to William Safire, Nixon even had a speech ready to deliver to the nation. The Russian crew of Soyuz 11 didn’t get that sort of an honour. They are the only astronauts to have died in space, when, in the horrific manner of science fiction tales, their cabin depressurized at an altitude of 168 kilometres.

The possibilities of premeditated space burials are strange but tangible. As commercial spaceflight ascends, and as we run out of cemetery real estate, space won’t just be accessible to larger populations of the living, but apparently of the dying too.

Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry were buried in space in 2009.

Celestis believes:

  • That we are entrusted by our clients to treat their loved one’s cremated remains with the utmost dignity and respect: We view this as a sacred trust.
  • In environmentally benign, noninvasive commercial development of the space frontier: We therefore ensure that our payloads of cremated remains are not “scattered” in space or otherwise contribute to orbital debris.
  • That in addition to commemorating the lives of our clients’ departed loved ones, our successful aerospace venture helps support the vision of a robust future for humanity in space.

Since the first launch of 1960s icon Timothy Leary and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in 1997, Celestis has been the subject of countless news stories in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, the BBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, Space.com, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Times of London, Forbes, Wired, Le Monde, China Daily, USA Today, and many other newspapers, Web sites, magazines, radio and television stations.

Celestis has accomplished six space missions, including – at NASA’s request – the launch of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker on a memorial flight to the moon. Celestis flights have honored the lives of people from the US, Japan, Great Britain, Denmark, The Netherlands, Argentina, Canada, China, and Germany.


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