February 20, 2006
Companies Offering to Put Remains in Space
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Scotty will be blasted into space - not beamed up - and Gordo is returning for his third flight.
The planned launch sometime in March of a rocket carrying the ashes of actor James Doohan, who played chief engineer Montgomery Scott on "Star Trek," and Mercury program astronaut Gordon Cooper will give a fitting send-off to two men who helped popularize human space exploration.
The craft also will hold the ashes of 185 others, including a telephone technician, a nurse and a college student.
Their families paid $995 to $5,300 for the flight, being conducted by one of a handful of growing businesses hoping to give a space experience to the common folk.
"It broadens the market, which is important to us because our whole business plan is about getting more people access to space," said Harvin Moore of Space Services Inc. of Houston, which is sponsoring the ashes flight. "Space needs to be affordable for all in some way."
Along with these services, space tourism businesses hope to send customers into suborbital space at a cost of $25,000 to $250,000 a person, far less than the $20 million businessman Gregory Olsen paid Russia last fall for a ride to the International Space Station. Richard Branson's company, Virgin Galactic, already has 100 people who have paid $200,000 apiece for flights, which the company has said it hopes to begin in 2008.
Kathie Mayo knew her 20-year-old daughter would have loved the idea of having her ashes sent into space. Rachael Mayo died in 2003 from complications of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"She would have said 'It's about time, Mom, rather than keeping my ashes around the house,'" said Kathie Mayo of Winona, Minn.
Another company, ZeroG Aerospace Inc. of Seattle, hopes to launch a rocket next month with mementoes from by people who paid as little as $49.95.
Colorado-based Beyond-Earth Enterprises plans to launch a rocket on a brief flight in October with hair samples or fingernail clippings sent by people who paid $34.95 for the "DNA kit" package. The company will also transport science experiments - no animals allowed - for $2,500.
So far, the response to Beyond-Earth's services has been in the low hundreds, said CEO Joe Latrell.
"We figured our market is actually Grandma and Grandpa," Latrell said. "I don't know about you, but I don't have $200,000 to give Richard Branson to go and fly in space. If I did have $200,000, the wife would definitely want the second home before I get any say in going to space."
Space Services' planned launch of ashes on an unspecified date next month from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will be the fifth "memorial spaceflight" for the privately held company and its previous incarnation, Celestis Inc.
It conducted its first "space funeral flight" in 1997 with the ashes of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and 23 other people from all walks of life.
The ashes launched next month will be a secondary payload on a privately built Falcon 1 rocket launching an Air Force satellite. A module containing capsules of ashes will orbit for years before falling into the atmosphere, Moore said.
Doohan and Cooper's widows said the decision to send up their husbands' ashes was no different from those made by the families of the less famous.
"He always wanted to go up in space," said Wende Doohan.
Cooper, who died in 2004, piloted the "Faith 7" spacecraft in 1963 and was command pilot of the Gemini 5 mission in 1965. His widow, Suzan Cooper, said she and her daughters thought "Daddy would do it again if he could, so why not?"
Rachael Mayo adored "Star Trek" and the U.S. space program and wanted to be the first woman on Mars. "Fly Me to the Moon" was one of her favorite songs.
"This is the ultimate flight for her," her mother said.
On the Net:
Space Services Inc. at http://www.memorialspaceflights.com/
Beyond-Earth Enterprises at http://www.beyond-earth.com/
ZeroG Aerospace at http://www.zerog-space.com/
Virginia Galactic: http://www.virgingalactic.com/en/