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SpaceX's Transporter 5 launches with remains of 47 people for 'space burial'

By Amy Thompson
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SpaceX's Transporter 5 launches with remains of 47 people for 'space burial'
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Transporter 5 payload into sun-synchronous orbit at 2:27 PM from Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida on Wednesday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 25 (UPI) -- SpaceX launched its 22nd rocket of the year on Wednesday, the Transporter-5 rideshare mission, which included carrying 47 people's cremated remains for a burial in space.

The send off, designed by the company Celestis, marks the 18th time the company has launched space burial flights -- which have increased in recent years at least partially because of commercial space companies like SpaceX.

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The Transporter-5 mission, which lifted off just before 2:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, is designed as an Uber pool for satellites.

The rideshare missions pack multiple small satellites into a single rocket to deposit them in a sun synchronus orbit, which is ideal for imaging and weather satellites, as well as for cosmic burial grounds.

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Celestis packs the cremated remains of its clients into roughly lipstick-sized tubes, before packing them in a small satellite for launch.

"These small satellites carry a bevy of human remains that orbit the planet for about a decade before they fall back to Earth and are burnt up in the atmosphere, resembling a shooting star falling back to Earth," Charles Chafer, who founded the company, told UPI in an interview.

"When I came up with the idea [for the company], I was looking for something that could bring commercial space activities to a mass market," Chafer said. "Obviously everyone dies -- at least today that's true -- therefore you have a global market."

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The company's first payload consisted of lipstick-tube sized portions of 24 people's remains, which launched from the Canary Islands in 1997, and included the remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

Among the ashes launched to space Wednesday was Marjorie Dufton -- at one point she was the youngest female flight instructor in the country, according to her son, Michael Dufton.

Marjorie Dufton was chosen to apply for NASA's Mercury 13 program, which was considering allowing women to become astronauts, but the program was disbanded before she had an opportunity to go to space.

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"That was her biggest regret," Michael Dufton told UPI. "But now she too can be amongst the stars."

Chafer says that the company provides the families and friends of its memorial participants with GPS tracking data so they can track their loved ones as they pass overhead.

Melissa Casey, whose son Travis had Duchenne muscular dystrophy and died a year ago at age 27, said it was her son's dream to have his remains launched into space.

"He always wanted to be cremated and sent to space," Casey said. "He will be so proud to be up there, hanging out with all these other families and watching over all of us."

The launch was the culmination of a three-day-long memorial service the families and friends of the departed participated in.

"I wanted to do this [for my mom] because I think she would be thinking 'this is exactly what I wanted,'" Dufton said. "I know this was her life's goal, and now it's finally being fulfilled."

The company's next memorial flight is slated for sometime in 2023, and the company is currently accepting participants, Chafer said.

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