HOUSTON, Feb. 5 -- A Texas company is making final arrangements for the first 'burial' of cremated ashes in space. Celestis ('seh-LESS-tiss') Inc. has announced that its premier launch, now targeted for mid-March, will loft into orbit the ashes of 23 people -- including 'Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry and '60s cult hero Timothy Leary. Co-founder Charles Chafer says the families will gather in California by February 10 and then ship a quarter ounce (7 grams) of the ashes of each of the deceased to Madrid for the next stage of the journey. The remains will hitchhike into orbit on the spacecraft carrying Spain's first satellite. An Orbital Sciences Corporation L-1011 plane will take off from Gando Air Base in the Canary Islands, soar to 38,000 feet and release a Pegasus rocket that will flame into orbit. Chafer reassures customers that the last thing the company wants is to create an orbiting cloud of cremation ashes whizzing around the Earth. To prevent this, Celestis has arranged for the capsules bearing the remains to stick to a chunk of the launch vehicle. This will stay aloft for some time between 18 months and 10 years -- then burn up as it sinks back into the atmosphere, ending as a shooting star. The company charges $4,800 for the service and hopes to arrange several flights a year. Chafer says the company has been overwhelmed by inquiries. Some people -- with lots of faith in technological development -- put space burial in their wills as early as the 1950s.
The first flight will also include the remains of Krafft Ehricke, an engineer on both Germany's V-2 and the U.S. Apollo programs; Todd Hawley, a founder of the International Space University; and Gerard K. O'Neill, a Princeton physicist who studied the possibility of orbiting space colonies. ---NEWLN:Copyright 1997 by United Press International.NEWLN:All rights reserved.NEWLN:---