The Sciences

How Final is a Space Burial?

A trip to the heavens can last a lot shorter than a trip to heaven.

By Boonsri DickinsonAug 14, 2007 5:00 AM


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For only $995, Space Services of Houston will pack a statistically insignificant 0.3 to 0.5 percent of your cremated remains in a lipstick-size container and send it 72 miles up. But that’s no guarantee of a final resting place in the heavens. Most of the 300 people whose ashes have rocketed into the cosmos since Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s landmark space burial over a decade ago have since crashed back to Earth. Just last April, James “Scotty” Doohan and Gemini program astronaut Gordon Cooper spent mere minutes in space before landing in a remote corner of New Mexico. A search team spent weeks locating the “lost payload.”

Later this year, Space Services plans to extend its services to orbiting flights. Even then, the container will circle the Earth only until its orbit decays and its spacecraft burns up in the atmosphere, which could take anywhere from 5 to 200 years. Or you could try a moon burial à la Eugene Shoemaker, codiscoverer of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy; Shoemaker’s ashes were sent crashing into a moon crater during the NASA Lunar Prospector mission.

“Cremation memorials are becoming more trendy around the world,” says Space Services CEO Charlie Chafer, who estimates that the number of space funerals will skyrocket to as many 10,000 a year by 2012. More ambitious—and permanent—space funerals will come with a hefty price tag: $44,995 to get your ashes on the moon or into deep space. As for Chafer’s end-of-life intentions, he puts his mouth where his money is. “I tell my employees to fly me on every flight we do until you run out of me,” he says.

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