This company launches the ashes of your loved ones into space

There are human remains orbiting the Earth as we speak.
Sade Agard
A portion of cremated remains or DNA sample are placed into lipstick-sized capsules.
A portion of cremated remains or DNA sample are placed into lipstick-sized capsules.

Celestis 

  • The company has launched nearly 1200 departed loved ones into space.
  • Memorial capsules are attached permanently to a spacecraft that is destined to fly into space and beyond
  • A Historic Star Trek Reunion flight aboard the Vulcan Centaur is underway.

What comes to mind when you think of members of the public launched into space? You won't be alone if it's the likes of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin or Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. Furthermore, it was only last September when Elon Musk's SpaceX completed the first all-civilian flight into orbit.

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That's all fine for the living - at least for those who can afford it - but what about those who have passed away? That's right—as part of a larger trend of space-based memorial services, a group is launching deceased loved ones into the final frontier.

The iconic space burial of Science fiction- Star Trek's Spock

On the topics of space and demise, one might be tempted to recall one of science fiction's famous depictions of a space send-off; that is Spock's funeral in the 1982 film Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.

Set in the year of 2285, the tearjerker scene features a bagpipe version of 'Amazing Grace' followed by the coffin being blasted out of the Starship Enterprise. The coffin eventually lands on the new Genesis planet -ready for the sequel.

However, that was 40 years ago. It is possible to send loved ones' ashes into space, as Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols appears to have done when she died in July. In fact, an entire Star Trek Reunion flight is underway.

The remains of Star Trek stars will unite in the upcoming historic deep space mission

This company launches the ashes of your loved ones into space
The Vulcan Centaur rocket will carry the remains of Star Trek veterans.

No sooner than December this year, US company Celestis, a pioneer in the memorial spaceflight business, is due to launch its historic deep space mission.

Nichols' cremated remains and DNA sample will be launched into deep space alongside those of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, and their son, Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry.

Also onboard will be some of the ashes of beloved Star Trek actor James "Scotty" Doohan, VFX maestro, Hollywood icon Douglas Trumbull, and others, making this a historic Star Trek reunion flight.

The spacecraft will remain in orbit beyond the Earth-Moon system for years, potentially even decades. According to Celestis, "Once Enterprise Flight establishes a stable orbit, it will be renamed Enterprise Station. It will [...] be the first permanent outpost representing humanity in deep space."

The company also provides a service where you can track the spacecraft while in orbit.

Celestis has launched nearly 1200 departed loved ones into space in individual capsules aboard a variety of spacecraft as of 2018. That's more dead people than living people launched into space.

Lipstick-sized capsules carry the remains of 'participants'

Celestis' idea of a space send-off hardly matches that of Spock's in the Wrath of Khan, with a full-sized torpedo coffin as part of the service.

In reality, only a small portion of a 'participant' is launched into space. Celestis Flight capsules are lipstick-sized, and each contains no more than seven grams of the deceased's remains.

Moreover, "Celestis capsules are never 'released' into the space environment," explains PR communication officer Pazia Schonfeld. Nor do they cause any orbital or other debris.

For example, the company's Earth orbital missions are strictly designed to re-enter the planet's atmosphere with the rocket stage or spacecraft and will be consumed entirely upon re-entry, blazing like a shooting star in final tribute.

According to the company's website, it costs $4,995 to put a fraction of a loved one in orbit in this way.

There are other options as well. For example, the "Earth Rise service" launches the portion of cremated remains or DNA to space and then returns them to Earth; while the "Luna service" will place the Celestis spacecraft carrying cremated remains or DNA on the surface of the Moon — creating a permanent memorial.

The Voyager service sends the Celestis spacecraft carrying cremated remains or DNA on a permanent celestial journey beyond the Moon.

Hitching onto SpaceX's Transport 5 mission- A 'secondary payload'

This company launches the ashes of your loved ones into space
A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off May 25 on the Transporter-5 rideshare mission carrying up to 200kg payloads.

On a more engineering side, Schonfeld explains to IE that Celestis' flight capsules are attached permanently to a rocket stage or spacecraft that is already destined to fly into space. "We are a secondary payload." In the case of the historic deep space mission, the ashes of the Star Trek stars will head into space on a rocket called the Vulcan Centaur.

The latest successful Celestis memorial spacecraft launch was on May 25, 2022. Dubbed the Ascension Flight, the spacecraft launched into Earth's orbit by hitching a ride on the Transporter 5 mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Transporter 5 is a dedicated rideshare mission by SpaceX that provides regularly scheduled Falcon 9 flights for small satellite operators. The program enables 'secondary class' payloads of up to 200 kg of payload mass.

The Celestis Ascension Flight payload is housed in a one-unit CubeSat (that's 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm) and was deployed into Earth orbit directly from the Transporter 5 carrier craft. The predicted sun-synchronized orbit (SSO) is at an altitude of 567 kilometers/352 miles.

An SSO, or heliosynchronous orbit, is a nearly polar orbit around a planet, which precesses through one complete revolution each year, so it always maintains the same relationship with the Sun.

This means that spacecraft are constantly riding at sunrise or sunset (never shadowed by Earth), and always visit the same spot at the same local time – for example, passing Florida every day at approximately 0930 to 1030.

This company launches the ashes of your loved ones into space
Memorial spacecrafts are in SSO (Sun synchronous orbit).

ESA 

This is particularly useful for monitoring how the memorial capsules change over time. The estimated orbital lifetime of the satellite platform is approximately a decade.

Ascension was the 9th Earth Orbit Service mission for Celestis and the 23rd overall mission since the company’s founding in 1994.

Memorial missions for all walks of life

Such space memorial missions are not reserved for late celebrities only.

"From accomplished astronauts and scientists to beloved artists – and to ordinary people from all walks of life who strived for excellence in everything they did – Celestis participants, in their own unique ways, show us what's possible when you test the boundaries of your skills, your profession, or your society," Pazia Schonfeld, Celestis' spokeswoman tells IE.

The Ascension Flight, still traveling in Earth's orbit as you read this, includes the ashes of a third grader from Two Rivers who dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

Also onboard are the cremains of a 27-year-old from Ohio who was a lover of DC Super Hero movies and had suffered from Muscular Dystrophy from a young age.

A beloved bride fulfills her late husband's wish to be among the stars by sending his ashes into space along with a sample of her DNA so they could travel together in space. If there's one thing the participants all have in common, it's their love of space.

Although, one cannot assume all participants onboard Celestis missions have a love of space. One of those present to watch the launch of Celestis' Starseeker mission- an 'Earth Rise' package from $2,495 - was a beloved wife. In an interview with Supercluster back in 2019, the mother of two revealed her motivation for sending her late husband's remains into space was to do with a connection with "energy, and the physics behind that."

Launched into space, to the moon, and beyond - forever

This company launches the ashes of your loved ones into space
The Lunar Prospector carried the remains of Eugene Shoemaker in 1999.

For a more forever journey to the moon or beyond, you'd need a 'Luna' or 'Voyager' package- and at least $12500 dollars.

Since each Celestis mission is a secondary payload, the only lunar mission that the company has had a hand in was in 1998 to assist NASA in honoring legendary geologist Dr. Eugene Shoemaker aboard the Lunar Prospector.

The Lunar Prospector spacecraft was on a mission to orbit and map the moon from a low polar orbit. After a year of orbit, the tiny spacecraft ran out of fuel and plummeted to the moon's surface, scattering the late scientist's ashes. Shoemaker is the first and still stands as the only person to have a lunar burial.

Sometimes, memorial spacecrafts 'fail' or go wrong

This company launches the ashes of your loved ones into space
Failed memorial spacecraft missions.

Between the years 2001 and 2009, there have been three flights that have either 'failed to orbit' or 'failed to reach space.'

One of these failures relates to an Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket in 2009, which included a symbolic portion of the remains of award-winning explorer Ralph White who documented the 1985 discovery of the Titanic.

The payload section separated from the launch rocket before it had reached space resulting in it tumbling through the air to roughly 45,000 feet at a 110mph crash in a desert.

"The few times that this has happened was years ago. Nowadays, thanks to the improvements in rocket science, this is a rare occurrence," explains Pazia Schonfeld to IE.

In 2001, Celestis' Odyssey flight failed to reach orbit due to the botched launch of the Taurus rocket, it was riding on. The primary payload was supposed to give new perspectives of Earth but instead, 85 seconds after lift-off, the rocket began its descent into the Indian Ocean, taking along with it the ashes of 50 deceased people.

Celestis promises a performance guarantee in their contract and offers a complimentary second mission should the first mission attempt fail to achieve success.