|By Frederic Neema/ Gamma|
|Space Services Inc. offers something unique to those who want to honor the memory of their loved ones in a very different way: they will send their ashes into space.
The service, called Space Memorial Flights has been offered since 1997. For US$ 995, Space Services Inc., based in Houston, Texas, sends 1 gram of the cremated remains into space or 7 grams for US$5,300. The cremated remains travel into space in small containers called “Flight Capsules” for the one-gram size and “Flight Modules” for the seven-gram size. All the containers are placed in a closed tube or spacecraft that is integrated on board of a rocket. The rocket is usually scheduled to launch a satellite into orbit. The ashes of the deceased, respectfully named “participants”, remain in orbit as long the rocket stage, usually several years. When the rocket stage re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, the friction consumes everything.
Because every ounce in Space counts, only small portions of the ashes can be sent. Space Services Inc. usually asks for a little extra, but sends the rest back to the families after the launch is successful, or scatters them in the sea, if preferred by the families.
Because of the nature of the cargo, Space Service makes sure that the human ashes are handled with care and dignity. Families send the cremated remains in “Sampling Kits” provided by the company. Upon receipt, they are immediately stored in the safe deposit box of a local bank in Houston until a few months before the launch date. Charles Chafer, founder and CEO of Space Services, is usually the one who handles them, fills up the capsules and modules and accompanies them during the plane trip to the launch pad.
Even today rocket launches can fail. Space Services guarantees a refund or to send another sample with the next rocket in case the launch is not successful. This is what happened in 2001 and most families decided to go for the re-launch.
The first flight, in 1997 was named “The Founders Flight”. At that time Space Services Inc. was Celestis. Aboard that first flight was Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry. The next flight scheduled for December 2006 is “The Explorers Flight” and will carry 216 participants from all over the world including two celebrities: Start Trek’s actor James “Scotty” Doohan and astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.
For the launch date, families are welcomed to come to the launch pad in California where a ceremony is planned. For the “Explorers Flights”, hundreds of Star Trek fans, better known as “Trekkers” or “Trekkies”, are expected to come to the launch, most of them probably dressed as characters of the famous TVseries and movies.
Space Services Inc’ website is at http://www.spaceservicesinc.com