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To the moon, Alice: burials in outer space

By DAR HADDIX, UPI Business Correspondent   |   Jan. 5, 2004 at 4:31 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Space junkies or those who just love adventures can add one more to their list, even as they enter the Great Beyond. Starting this year, Houston, Texas-based Celestis Inc. says it will start providing space burials for about $1000.

The company is expecting several hundred "passengers" on its next flight into space in 2005, Susan Schonfeld, spokesperson for Celestis told United Press International.

Schonfeld explaining the allure of such a sendoff, said, "Space is very romantic and mystical -- when you look up in the night sky, it's the last frontier."

Chan Tysor, president of the company, added, "The dream of spaceflight, and the desire to take part in the opening of the space frontier can be realized -- and is available to everyone."

Previous launchees include "Star Trek" TV series creator Gene Roddenberry on the service's 1997 maiden voyage, as well as Timothy Leary. Celestis has sent three launches containing about 100 people's remains into space since 1997.

For $995, one gram of a loved one's remains are sent out in a satellite that orbits the Earth, eventually to reenter "blazing as a shooting star in final tribute" as the satellite vaporizes in the atmosphere. Or, the company will launch a bigger tribute (seven grams of remains) for $5,300. Those who prefer a flight to the moon or a final journey into deep space will have to pay significantly more: $12,500.

The event is in some ways similar to a traditional funeral, providing a personal message engraved on each burial capsule, a video of the launch, memorial ceremony, and allowing relatives and friends to attend the sendoff, according to the company.

"After the first launch, we started to get a lot of requests," Schonfeld said. So many in fact that now the company is in the process of organizing regularly scheduled launches, including some out of the United States, she said. Also, some funeral homes have agreements with Celestis to help arrange the space burials, she said.

The next launch will take place in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the oldest space launch facility in the world. The first satellite to orbit the earth was launched from the site, according to fas.org.

Microsatellite manufacturer SpaceQuest of Fairfax, Va. will provide the vehicles for the space burials.

And just in case there's a problem with the launch, the company only sends a portion of the cremated remains into flight.

Celestis also offers other space-based services. For those who'd rather keep their dearly departed closer to home, the company will arrange to name a star after the deceased. The service includes transmitting a "high energy digitized message," such as a biography, photograph or tribute, into space, and a map indicating the location of the newly named star.

This year the company also broadcast people's New Year's resolutions into space. With the help of participating scientists, the company aims the messages toward constellations that the scientists believe might contain "life-supporting planets," Schonfeld said.

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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