Richmond dad's Star Trek-loving son died during COVID. Now his remains will be launched into space.
RICHMOND, Va. -- From the outside, it looks like a regular Museum District condo in Richmond, Virginia. But once inside, you'll be beamed up to another galaxy.
“I've always been interested in science fiction, Star Trek, etc., my whole life," Jeff Shugart said.
Shugart has all the memorabilia to prove his passion, from Star Trek drinking glasses to holiday decorations.
"We have a Star Trek Christmas tree," he said with a laugh.
This father of two is what many would call a “Trekkie."
But his son Chase was the only person he knew who loved "The Borg” more.
"Chase took it to the next level," said Shugart.
The 25-year-old's interests were out of this world.
"Back to the Future, Star Wars, The Lego Movie," Shugart said. "He knew them all, and he had far surpassed me in Star Trek knowledge at this point.”
Chase was quick to share that knowledge with friends and strangers alike.
"He liked to talk to people," Shugart said about his son. "He liked to listen to people. He made you feel like you were the only person in the room.”
When Chase was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019, he quickly became one of the VCU Critical Care Hospital's favorite patients.
“He made fast friends with the nurses, the staff, the transport people, the janitors, the doctors, but he would help them with their problems," Shugart said. "You know, he talked with them at night, he just cared about people."
Hospital staff even helped Chase film a video in the hospital to the tune of "You've Got a Friend in Me," by Randy Newman.
"It was supposed to be a take on the Fresh Prince of Be Air, the resident patient of critical care," Shugart said.
It’s a clip Shugart gets emotional watching because his oldest son didn’t get the chance to live long and prosper.
Chase died of cancer complications in December 2020.
“It's not right," said his dad. "It's not the order of things, and you sit and wonder, well, what would he be doing today?”
Because of the pandemic, the Shugarts weren’t able to hold a traditional funeral.
"Everybody said, well, when are you gonna have a celebration?" Shugart recalled. "Well, I can't. And then by the time COVID was over, time had passed."
But Jeff Shugart wanted to find a special way to honor and say goodbye to his oldest son.
“I just remember hearing about some news item or article about launching ashes into space and then they come right back down to Earth," he said. "I thought, well, wait, is that a real thing?"
A quick online search led him to Celestis, a company that launches cremated human remains into space -- a space burial.
"They had the Enterprise flight, which is named after Star Trek, on the Vulcan rocket, which is named after Star Trek. And the Voyager mission, which is named after Star Trek, and I'm like, I’m doing this," Shugart said.
The deep space voyager mission will launch later this year from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"It's deep space," Shugart said. "It's past the moons, between the moon and Mars, so to speak, and it'll just be there forever."
Chase’s remains will be put into a capsule, joining the remains, and mind files of more than 200 others – including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and some of the original cast members.
"He would be thrilled to know that he was up there with Scotty and Dr. McCoy, and Lieutenant Uhura," Shugart said with a laugh.
Even DNA from past presidents John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Washington will boldly go where no man has gone before.
"It's a big deal," Shugart said. "I truly believe he will be up there just chatting with everybody forever and never get tired of it."
Here on Earth, Shugart still has physical reminders of his son everywhere, but he enjoys imagining the possibilities of his new journey in space.
"To think that some civilization could find this and go look at these," he said. "These are pretty nice people. I guess Planet Earth was a pretty nice place, you know."
But for now, when he’s missing his favorite Trekkie, he can look to the stars.
"Yep, there I see him," Shugart said with a smile.
The Shugart family is planning to go down to Florida in December for the launch, and when they return to Richmond, they plan to have a launch party where friends and family can watch Chase ascend to his final resting place.
Celestis is taking reservations for its second upcoming Voyager mission, known as the Infinite Flight, which is scheduled for the first quarter of 2025.
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Ashes of Nichelle Nichols, Gene Roddenberry to Rest in Space
The space burial will also include a sample of ashes from James "Scotty" Doohan and VFX legend Douglas Trumbull
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and actor Nichelle “Uhara” Nichols are set to boldly go where few humans — living or dead — have gone before. As Universe Today reports, portions of their ashes will be launched into space on the “Enterprise” memorial mission on a rocket ship dubbed the Vulcan Centaur.
The project comes from the Houston-based company Celestis, which specializes in space burials for human remains. Celestis arranges for previously-scheduled space flights to take up samples of between one and seven grams of ashes as a secondary payload. The Vulcan Centaur comes from United Launch Alliance, and is commissioned to drop the Peregrine lunar lander on the Moon, to pave the way for NASA’s crewed Artemis missions. Afterwards, the rest of the shuttle — complete with it secondary payload of Star Trek ashes — will enter permanent orbit around the Sun.
Nichols passed away last month and was a recent addition to the manifest. “I’m sure she would have much preferred to go on the shuttle,” Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, said. “But this was a pretty close second.”
Joining Nichols and Roddenberry on the flight are ashes of Majel Barrett Roddenberry, Gene’s wife, as well as James “Scotty” Doohan and VFX titan Douglas Trumbull.
“We’re very pleased to be fulfilling, with this mission, a promise I made to Majel Barrett Roddenberry in 1997 that one day we would fly her and husband Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry together on a deep space memorial spaceflight,” Celestis co-Founder and CEO Charles M. Chafer said. “The mission is named Enterprise in tribute to them.”
At the Celestis website , fans who wish to pay tribute to Nichols’ can send in writing, music, photos, and other media. “All names and messages will be digitized and launched with her on her journey” on the “Celestis Mindfile,” which is a pretty stellar name for what is almost certainly a lightweight flash drive.
No exact date has been set for the Vulcan Centaur mission, but it could launch as soon as December.
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The ashes of actors Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) James Doohan (Scotty), Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Nurse Chapel), and the TV series creator Gene Roddenberry and visual-effects wiz Douglas Trumbull are headed into outer space.
The ashes and DNA from the iconic actors will be part of a special “Enterprise mission,” according to space and astronomy news site Universe Today .
The samples will fly “beyond the moon” on the flight, which will take place at a future date to be determined.
United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur mission is planning to deliver a robotic lunar lander in order to scout for NASA’s future Artemis 1 flights. The “Enterprise mission” will be part of the “secondary payload” on that flight. The ashes are provided as part of a joint venture with Houston’s Celestis, which conducts memorial space flights.
The first unmanned Artemis mission is scheduled for Aug. 29. It will be followed by Artemis 2, a flight that will circle the moon, and then Artemis 3, the first manned lunar landing in more than 50 years.
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Ashes of Star Trek cast and crew to launch into space on memorial mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA - Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols, who died on July 30 at the age of 89, will be taking one last voyage into space.
The American star's ashes and DNA will join those of show creator Gene Roddenberry, actor James Doohan and actress Majel Barrett-Roddenberry on a memorial mission appropriately named the Enterprise flight later this year.
Nichols was revered for her role as Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the starship USS Enterprise from the original series, which aired from 1966 to 1969.
Her co-star Doohan, who played Scottish chief engineer Scotty, died in 2005.
Roddenberry died in 1991, while his widow Majel - who had various roles in the franchise over the years - died in 2008.
The flight is organised by Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, which specialises in "alternative funeral services" in space for clients from all walks of life.
On Instagram, Celestis said it was "absolutely honoured" to have Nichols join the memorial flight, but did not fix a firm launch date for the mission, saying only that it will occur "later this year".
In a separate press release, it added there weremore than 150 flight capsules containing cremated remains (ashes), DNA samples and messages of greetings from clients worldwide "on an endless journey in interplanetary space".The capsules will take their journey on board a rocket called Vulcan, before being launched into deep space and entering a stable orbit around the sun.
Those with deep pockets can shell out to send their departed loved ones off this way , with reservations starting at US$12,500 (S$17,400).
Meanwhile, Celestis has invited fans to submit their tributes to Nichols before her final voyage takes place.
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A Uniquely Compelling Memorial Experience
James "scotty" doohan.
Canadian actor, known for his role as Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott ("Scotty") in the television and film series Star Trek .
- Participant aboard Explorers Flight, Legacy Flight, New Frontier Flight and Enterprise Flight
Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. (Col., USAF)
Aerospace engineer, test pilot, United States Air Force pilot, and as one of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury orbited the Earth aboard Faith 7.
- Participant aboard Legacy Flight, Explorers Flight and New Frontier Flight
Gene and Majel Barrett Roddenberry
Screenwriter, actress and producer of Star Trek TV series.
- Participant aboard Founders Flight (Gene) and Enterprise Flight (Gene and Majel)
The first woman astrogeologist, the lunar geologist at NASA who determined the crucial site for the first landing on the Moon.
- Participant aboard Luna 02 Flight
Two-time, all-star Japanese professional baseball player
- Participant aboard The Heritage Flight
SSGT John James Cleaver
Battlefield hero, bronze star, purple heart recipient
- Participant aboard the Heritage Flight
L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.
One of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. was an American hero and a true space pioneer who helped lead America into the Space Age.
- Participant aboard Explorers Flight, Legacy Flight and New Frontier Flight
Philip Kenyon Chapman ScD
Born and raised in Australia, became a US citizen and a NASA astronaut in the 1960s.
- Participant aboard the Aurora Flight and the Enterprise Flight
Physicist, author of over 50 books about science, including Space Atlas, Exoplanets, Imagined Life , and Cosmic Queries .
-Participant aboard Enterprise Flight
Nichelle "Lt. Uhura" Nichols
American actress, known for her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the television and film series Star Trek .
- Participant aboard Enterprise Flight
DeForest "Dr. McCoy" Kelley
American actor, known for his role as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the television and film series Star Trek .
Fulfilling The Dreams of a Lifetime
The dream of spaceflight is now a reality for all of us..
Celestis Memorial Spaceflights make the dream of spaceflight a reality by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains into near-space, Earth orbit, to the lunar surface or even beyond. You or your loved one will venture into space as part of a real space mission, riding alongside a commercial or scientific satellite.
There isn’t a more compelling memorial service for someone who loves science fiction, marvels at space or simply longs to be at one with the cosmos.
A commemoration of love.
There is not another memorial service as compelling as a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight. Each launch is a tribute event, attended by friends and family from around the globe. The celebration includes launch site tours and interaction with astronauts and space experts.
At the memorial service preceding, families share life stories and share a contemplation of the next day’s launch. As the countdown reaches zero and liftoff occurs, an overwhelming emotion of joy and completion prevails.
Above: Couple waves to the participants aboard The Pioneer Flight
A Dream Fulfilled
Celestis provides an easy-to-use tracking tool that lets family and friends track the mission's progress as the Celestis satellite orbits the Earth or makes its way into deep space.
Create and plan additional remembrances and celebrations as the spacecraft orbits overhead or reaches key locations.
Celestis DNA TM
Celebrate life,, launch your dna to space., news and updates, celestis’ enterprise and tranquility flights: updates and progress towards launch.
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When Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols died in late July at age 89, she was lauded as the trailblazer she was during her lifetime. However, her story is far from over. In early 2023, she will fly alongside the DNA of her son, Kyle Johnson, aboard Celestis’ Enterprise Flight. In addition, the Nichelle Nichols Foundation – announced today, on what would have been her 90th birthday – will continue to promote diversity in STEM fields.
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One of the significant differences distinguishing Enterprise Station from other deep space missions is that it truly represents the breadth and scope of humanity with its contributions – from people like you. Read more in Part 1 of this series to discover the Celestis difference.
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Celestis Memorial Spaceflights will fulfill the lifetime dream of former NASA astronaut-scientist Dr. Philip Chapman, who resigned his NASA post before he was able to fly to space. Celestis has also hosted many astronauts at its pre-launch events, allowing event guests to meet the elite people who have experienced the phenomenon of spaceflight.
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Fulfill The Dream of Spaceflight
Contact us today to learn more about Memorial Spaceflights and to make reservations.
Effective Date: May 25, 2018
Celestis, Inc. ("Celestis") is a subsidiary of Space Services Holdings, Inc., the commercial space pioneer whose memorial spaceflights have served hundreds from around the world. Celestis knows that you care how information about you is used and shared, and we appreciate your trust that we will do so carefully and sensibly.
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How Space Burials Work: Cost & How to Plan
Kate Wight, BA in English
The classic sci-fi show Star Trek proclaimed that space was the final frontier. Now, it can be your final frontier, thanks to the rising popularity of space burials.
There’s something about outer space that makes it seem like the perfect place to lay someone to rest. Space is vast, deep, dark, and fathomless. It’s boundless and endless. Those who are left behind may take comfort in the fact that the impact of their loved ones will be equally as infinite.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Space Burial?
How Much Does a Space Burial Cost?
- The Space Burial Process
How to Plan a Space Burial for Yourself or a Loved One
More than 450 people have had a portion of their ashes shot into orbit since 1992. The first, fittingly enough, was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. A sample of Roddenberry’s remains traveled into space on the NASA space shuttle Columbia mission and returned.
Space burials aren’t only for science fiction icons and wealthy celebrities. Thanks to an increasing private sector interest in space travel, the prospect of space burial has become more accessible.
What’s a Space Burial?
A space burial is, simply put, the practice of launching cremated remains into space. Companies in the business of putting ashes in space often refer to space burials as “memorial spaceflights.” More accurately, the ashes are sent into orbit for a brief amount of time before returning to Earth.
You might wonder why remains aren’t scattered in space. It’s because loose ashes in space would become space debris. Space debris (also known as space waste or space garbage) refers to manmade detritus in space. This includes objects like defunct satellites and spent rocket stages.
It’s estimated that as of this year there are as many as 129 million bits of debris smaller than 10 centimeters in orbit around the Earth at any time.
Solar panels, telescopes, and star trackers are particularly vulnerable to being damaged by small space debris. It’s important, to minimize the impact of ashes in space as much as possible.
History of Space Burials and Famous Burials
Gene Roddenberry has had two separate space burials. After the NASA mission that carried his ashes in space, some of his remains traveled up in April of 1997 during the first-ever private space burial. Celestis, a private space company, launched a Pegasus rocket that carried samples of the remains of 24 people into space.
It orbited the Earth for five years until it burned up in the atmosphere. Roddenberry wasn’t the only notable person whose remains were aboard this rocket. Ashes from space physicist Gerard O’Neill, rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke, and counterculture icon Timothy Leary were all aboard the same flight.
Actor James Doohan, who played Scotty in the original Star Trek series, also had his ashes sent into space. In fact, portions of his ashes journeyed into space on three separate flights.
But soon, the late Roddenberry will tie this record. Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett (who played Christine Chapel in the original Star Trek series) made arrangements before her death to have her ashes launched into space together with her husband’s. Celestis has scheduled that launch for 2020.
Nearly every portion of ashes that has been shot into space has returned to Earth eventually for reasons we’ll outline later. But there is one space burial that was more permanent. Dr. Gene Shoemaker was one of the founders of the entire field of planetary science. His research on craters was crucial to our understanding of lunar geology.
He also co-discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Shoemaker passed away in 1997 in a car accident. In 1999, the Lunar Prospector sent his ashes in space in a capsule designed by planetary scientist Carolyn Porco.
A portion of Shoemaker’s ashes were interred on the moon. He is the only person whose ashes have been buried on a celestial body beyond the planet Earth.
Shoemaker may not be alone for long, though. Another private space company, Elysium Space, has joined the aforementioned Celestis in offering permanent lunar burials. Both companies are offering launches as early as 2021.
You might think that the price of a space burial would be too astronomically high (no pun intended) for your budget. But there are actually a wide variety of pricing options available.
In addition to their Lunar Memorial, which is priced at $9,950, Elysium Space offers a more affordable Shooting Star Memorial for $2,490. Considering the average casket costs between $2,000 and $5,000, this is a fairly reasonable price point.
Celestis has been established for longer than Elysium: as such, it offers a few more options. Its Earth Rise Service is similar in scope to Elysium Space’s Shooting Star Memorial and has a similar price point at $2,495. Its Luna Service, on the other hand, is more expensive than Elysium’s, at $12,500.
Celestis also offers a mid-range Earth Orbit Service starting at $4,995 and a deluxe Voyager Service starting at $12,500. Both companies also offer discounted services to veterans.
These prices all encompass a very small amount of ash — one gram, to be exact. That number may be upped to seven grams with an accompanying rise in price.
The cremated remains of a human weigh between four and eight pounds. At an estimated cost of $10,000 per pound, this amount would be too expensive for most people to transport.
The smaller, encapsulated amount of ashes is much more affordable. Again, a space burial is more of a symbolic gesture than a permanent resting place.
The Space Burial Process
There are several different options on ways to send ashes in space but many steps in the process are universal.
Step 1: Contact a company that does private space burials
A private space burial company will handle all the logistical issues. This includes helping you complete any necessary paperwork and coordinating with commercial spacecraft companies like SpaceX and Lockheed Martin.
Space missions aren’t very frequent — expect to wait. Be sure to book as soon as you can, because spaces on flights are limited.
Step 2: Encapsulate the ashes
The company you choose will provide you with a tube that is approximately the size of a lipstick — you’ll put ashes of your loved one in it. The company can engrave initials or even a message onto this tube.
The company will reclaim the capsule if you opt for one of the lower-cost options that return the ashes to earth. They’ll verify that it reached space before returning it to you to keep.
Step 3: Attend or view the launch
Friends and family of a loved one whose ashes are being sent to space are typically invited to a pre-launch tour the day before liftoff. This way, they can gain a better understanding of how the rocket works.
On launch day, all the people who have loved ones on board can celebrate together in a joint memorial service. Attendees will share favorite memories and commemorate the lives of their late friends and family members.
You can also watch a live webcast if you’re unable to attend the launch so you can view and participate from afar.
Step 4: Track your loved ones
Tracking is sometimes available so you know where in the universe your loved one is, particularly for people whose loved ones’ ashes will be in space for an extended period of time.
A transmitter sends a precise location, so you can still feel connected — even when you’re a universe away.
Step 4: Treasure your keepsakes
The company you choose will provide things like a Certificate of Mission Completion and a custom video of the pre-launch memorial service, in addition to returning any encapsulated remains that return to Earth.
The best (and really only) way to plan a space burial is to get in touch with one of the private space companies that routinely plan these missions. They will help you navigate any permits you need, and will often guarantee a complimentary second mission if their first mission is unsuccessful.
It may be a few years before a spot clears up. Booking well in advance can help ensure that you get the lowest possible price for a given mission. Some companies require the full amount upfront and others may allow you to make a deposit and get on a payment plan.
Thanks to expanding interest in creative burial options, space burials are a real option for a lot of people. If you or your loved ones have ever looked up at the stars and wondered what it would be like to fly high, it may be within your reach.
- “Memorial Spaceflight Experiences.” Celestis , Celestis, 2019, https://www.celestis.com/experiences-pricing/ .
- “Celestial Services.” Elysium Space , Elysium Space, 2019, https://elysiumspace.com/product-category/celestial-services/ .
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Send your ashes into orbit for a funeral in space
Services such as Celestis and Aura Flights send remains to the skies in an epic final journey.
- Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has twice been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Even in the freezing cold, Steven Schnider would often drag his wife Christine outside to look up at the night sky. He'd point out everything from planets to comets to satellites he'd tracked down using an app called Heavens Above.
"He'd say, 'Do you see it?' It's right there. And it would be the faintest little piece of light going across the sky," Christine recalls. "He was just so excited about it."
When Steven was close to death in 2017, there was a consensus among family members that a space burial would be the best way to send him off. Their daughter took out her phone, did a quick search and pulled up a company called Celestis .
Last June, a portion of Steven's ashes -- along with cremated remains from over 150 other Celestis clients -- were flown into Earth's orbit aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket , which launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Another portion of his ashes will fly aboard the Luna 02 mission , which is slated for takeoff in 2022.
"He'd be so excited that he was in space," Christine says.
Steven's family is among a growing number of people looking to space as a final resting place. Companies like Celestis offer a range of experiences, from an Earth Rise service that takes someone's ashes into space and brings them back, to Earth orbit and deep space options. Prices run from around $2,500 to $12,500. (The average cost of a funeral in the US, by comparison, is around $9,000 .) The service has attracted high-profile clients including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and astronaut Gordon Cooper. Other companies such as Aura Flights and Elysium Space offer similar services.
Space memorials are becoming increasingly popular thanks to growing cremation rates and a declining emphasis on cultural and religious traditions, says Celestis co-founder and CEO Charles Chafer, who started the company in 1994.
"The notion of, 'Bury me next to my grandfather in the family plot in a church' doesn't work in a mobile society," Chafer says. "People look for alternatives."
A celestial celebration
Ashes sent as part of Celestis's orbital service fly as what's called a "secondary payload," meaning they're sent on spacecraft from commercial providers headed into space for other purposes. The payload is small enough that it burns up entirely when re-entering the Earth at the end of its orbital lifetime, which ranges from a few months to a few hundred years. That's important in keeping with the company's commitment not to add to space junk, Chafer says.
Celestis has had 16 launches so far from locations including Cape Canaveral, the Marshall Islands and the Canary Islands. Five launches are scheduled to take place over the next two years.
"The pace is accelerating as the trends are accelerating," Chafer says.
To prepare for a launch, technicians glue small capsules filled with ashes into a metal sleeve. They then bolt that sleeve to a launch vehicle or satellite. The company asks clients to send at least twice as many ashes needed to fly, in case there's a failure (and there have been a few). If Celestis doesn't need to refly participants, it scatters the backup ashes near the launch site.
Space cheese and other weird items we've sent into orbit
Celestis provides a real-time tracker so relatives can see the location of their loved ones above. It's a tool Joe Rust often uses to follow his brother Alex, who died in 2013 and whose ashes also launched aboard the Falcon Heavy . A few weeks ago, Alex was flying over Australia. Joe took a screenshot, sent it to his brother who lives there and told him to "look up."
Alex's request to be sent into space didn't come as a shock, given the way he lived his life. In 2008, he quit his job at The Chicago Board of Trade and moved to Florida. He swapped his minivan for a sailboat from Craigslist and headed for the Bahamas, then sailed around the world for the next four years. He later traveled to India, where he contracted typhoid fever and died at age 29.
Alex had initially wanted their brother, an engineer, to build a rocket that would send his ashes into space. Given that wasn't possible, Joe looked into other options and came across Celestis.
"He'd made what we thought was somewhat of a ridiculous request," Joe recalls. "The idea of him passing away wasn't something we wanted to think about or even thought was possible. He lived this really adventurous life, always on the edge, so we thought Alex was pretty invincible."
Dozens of Alex's relatives and friends attended the rocket launch last summer, along with fans who had never met him but were inspired by his adventures.
"In good Alex fashion, we made a party out of it," Joe says.
Space fans also have the option to be scattered above the Earth through a company called Aura. Gas balloons are used to carry ashes more than 30 kilometers above the Earth's surface, into a region called near space. A scatter vessel containing the cremains opens, and they gently cascade toward Earth. Cameras capture footage of the release for loved ones to keep.
The ashes are carried around the world on stratospheric winds and join with the planet's atmosphere over weeks and months before eventually becoming raindrops and snowflakes. The company has launched more than 500 near space flights since 2016.
Chris Rose, Aura's co-director, says this memorial option removes the stress of having to find one ideal location to scatter a loved one's remains. "You're scattered across the world," he says.
The process isn't disruptive to the environment, Rose adds. After the ashes are released, the balloon continues to rise and expand due to pressure change. It eventually bursts and drops the gear it's carrying, including computer equipment for tracking and monitoring the flight, back to Earth using a parachute system. The Aura team recovers all equipment after using computer simulations and weather data to predict the flight path.
Rose says the ashes released into the Earth's atmosphere are sterile and "symbolic of a human body at that point."
Rafal Zebrala used Aura's services to fulfill the wishes of his partner, Marek Moch , who died in January following a battle with cancer.
In early March, nearly a dozen close family members and friends headed to a launch site outside Sheffield, England. They shared memories and raised a glass of champagne before Moch was released into the sky.
"On the one hand it was a hard time, but on the other it was a very calm, emotional and even relaxing ceremony," Zebrala says. "[Marek] dreamed of becoming a pilot, and now he's up there. I can always speak to him by raising my head up."
Christine, the Celestis customer, also appreciates not having to drive to a cemetery to feel connected to her husband. Instead, she can just look to the skies.
"It feels like he's always around."
This story is part of CNET's The Future of Funerals series. Stay tuned this week for more.
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‘It felt like a funeral’: William Shatner reflects on voyage to space
Recalling the experience almost one year later, the actor admits ‘everything I had expected to see was wrong’
William Shatner expected he would achieve the “ultimate catharsis” after his historic flight into space. Instead, the voyage left him filled with grief, an “overwhelming sadness” and a newfound appreciation for the beauty of Earth, the Star Trek actor has said.
“My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral,” an excerpt from his book Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder, published by Variety , reads.
“I love the mystery of the universe. I love all the questions that have come to us over thousands of years of exploration and hypotheses … but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold … all I saw was death,” Shatner wrote.
Images of the actor pressed up against the window of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket capsule were live-streamed back to Earth in October last year as the four-person crew approached the boundary of space, known as the Kármán Line, and continued on.
But for Shatner, recalling the view almost one year later, he describes “a cold, dark, black emptiness … deep, enveloping, all-encompassing”.
“Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong,” he wrote. “I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things – that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe.”
The Canadian, who captivated the world in his role as Captain James Kirk of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, broke down in tears upon landing, describing having had “the most profound experience I can imagine”. “I hope I never recover from this,” he said at the time. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary, extraordinary.”
But a year after touching down back to Earth, Shatner wrote in the excerpt: “I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.”
“It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness.
“Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna … things that took 5bn years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread.
“My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”
He added in a recent interview with the Washington Post : “Everybody else was shaking bottles of champagne, and it was quite a sense of accomplishment. And I didn’t feel that way at all. I was not celebrating. I was, I don’t know, shaking my fists at the gods.”
- William Shatner
- Blue Origin
Space Burials: a Cosmic Conclusion to Our Earthly Existence
Last Updated: June 16, 2023
Many of us wish to go to space before we die, but know that even with the current state of space exploration, this may not be a possibility (at least financially) within our lifetime. But what about after we die?
Can you or some small part of you be “buried” in space? Is it a possibility today? Is it legal? How much would it cost? Let’s dive into space burials!
What are space burials?
Very simply, a space burial is defined as the launching of (human) remains into space/ off Earth. They were first proposed by the science fiction author Neil R. Jones in his novella “The Jameson Satellite” in 1931 and later proposed as a commercial service (i.e. something that could be purchased by the average person) in the 1965 movie The Loved One and by Richard DeGroot in The Seattle Times newspaper on April 3, 1977.
Why would you want a space burial?
While there are many possible answers, one obvious one is the desire to have some part of you reach space, even if it’s not within your lifetime. Family members or friends may also choose to bestow this honor upon their lost loved one who loved space and wished to go.
There have also been many discussions lately about the cost of funerary services (more on this later) as well as the environmental and social impacts of overcrowded cemeteries. Many feel that space burials provide a unique and interesting way to honor a loved one at a potentially similar price.
But is it legal?
All after-death procedures (embalming, burial, and cremation) are regulated, including specific ones regarding if ashes can be scattered. For outer space, legal requirements include:
- Ashes must remain in a container; you cannot spread the ashes in space as you can in the sea
- Only a portion of the ashes may be included so the container is not large
- The container cannot cause harm to a person or property
Has anyone been buried in space?
In 1992, the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia (mission STS-52) carried a sample of Gene Roddenberry’s cremated remains into space and returned them to Earth, making it the first space burial.
The first space burial performed by a private company (Celestis) was in 1997, containing sample remains of 24 people into an elliptical orbit, orbiting the Earth once every 96 minutes until re-entry in 2002. Famous people on this flight included Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, and Timothy Leary, an American writer, psychologist, psychedelic drug advocate and Harvard University professor. Celestis and other companies have continued offering this service.
Let’s delve into a few details that are important to note when considering space burials both in the past and today.
A sample of remains
First and foremost, space burials are not sending a coffin into space. In addition to the legal requirements listed above, small samples of remains are launched to minimize the cost of launching into space, thereby making these services more affordable.
While ashes are typically chosen, some companies allow other options such as DNA samples, hair, etc. To prevent contamination in space, remains are sealed until the spacecraft burns up upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, if the family chooses to unseal them after the remains are returned to them, or until they reach their extraterrestrial destinations if they impact a surface or burn up.
The sample is returned to Earth
While this is no longer always the case, the fact that the sample returns to Earth might be unexpected with our traditional understanding of burial and could be considered a misnomer because of that detail.
In general, space burial missions, or memorial spaceflights as they are often called, go into orbit around the Earth. Suborbital flights briefly transport them into space by crossing the boundary of space without attempting to escape orbit, then return to Earth where they can be recovered. These are a cost-effective method of space burial and the remains do not burn up and are either recovered or lost in space.
But not always
As will be discussed further later, samples aren’t always returned to Earth, at least not in this way. For example, some memorial spaceflights launch them into orbit, without a planned return to Earth. However, these orbits will eventually decay, sometimes within a few years, and sometimes not for thousands of years, and when they do, they will burn up in the atmosphere upon re-entry.
More recently, packages have appeared that launch remains to extraterrestrial bodies, such as the Moon, or farther into space.
How much does it cost?
Now that we know space burial is legal and has been an option since 1997 commercially, how much does it cost? Similarly, just because there are currently companies that can send private citizens into space, does not mean that it is financially available to everyone . So, how much would a memorial spaceflight set you back?
Before we delve into the cost of a space burial, let’s use a baseline of funerary costs in general to compare.
- The 2021 national median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial in the US is $7,848 while the median cost of a funeral with cremation is about $6,971
- According to the 2022 Cost of Dying Report from the UK, a funeral in 2021 was 4,056 pounds, or about $4,905 USD
Celestis offers three main packages:
- Earth Rise: launch to space and return to Earth
- Earth Orbit: launch into Earth orbit
- Luna: launch to lunar orbit or surface
- Voyager: launch to deep space
Earth Rise starts at about $3,000, Earth Orbit starts at about $5,000, and both Luna and Voyager start at about $13,000. Celestis offers numerous features and add-ons to commemorate your loved ones in different ways such as different capsule sizes, in-person and webcast launch and memorial services, a certificate of authenticity and mission details, the recovered capsule, a professional video of the mission, and other keepsake options. $3,000 appears to be the standard for most memorial spaceflight companies though Beyond Burials offers limited packages starting at $1,500.
Considering the average funerary costs as well as the cost to go into space as a living human, a space burial is approximately the same or even cheaper than typical funerary costs, making it a possibility for families to send a sample of their loved ones’ remains into space and then still hold a memorial service.
Current Space Burial Organizations
As of June 2023, current space burial or “Memorial Spaceflight” businesses include:
Official NASA space burials
- First space burial: On October 22, 1992, some of the ashes of Gene Roddenberry launched into Earth orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and then returned to Earth.
- Launched from Earth on January 6, 1998, some of his ashes were carried to the Moon by the Lunar Prospector space probe which impacted the solar polar region on July 31, 1999.
- Celestis provided the service at NASA’s request commercially, making Shoemaker’s ashes the first private delivery to the lunar surface.
- The brass foil wrapping of Shoemaker’s memorial capsule is inscribed with images of Comet Hale–Bopp, the Barringer Meteor Crater, and a quotation from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
- Pluto-Finder launched to his discovery: On January 19, 2006, a small portion of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes launched aboard the New Horizons spacecraft headed to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the astronomical body and “third zone” of the Solar System that he discovered. His is the first sample of human cremated remains that will escape the solar system.
Most recent NASA space burial: On December 5, 2014, a sample of the remains of Lockheed-Martin engineer Patrick O’Malley was launched into Earth orbit on the Orion spacecraft. The aeronautical engineer had worked on the spacecraft for over a decade but died before the launch, prompting his coworkers to request NASA for permission that a sample of his remains could be on the spacecraft.
A few other notable individuals who had a space burial
- Originally scheduled for a spaceflight burial in Fall 2006; delayed until April 2007 for suborbital flight and return to Earth
- August 3, 2008: the same portion of ashes was launched for low Earth orbit but the rocket failed
- Some of his ashes are hidden under the floor of the ISS Columbus module (smuggled aboard by Richard Garriott in 2008)
- May 22, 2012: a small urn with some of his ashes was flown into space on Falcon 9 rocket as part of COTS Demo Flight 2, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere a month after initial orbit insertion
- Exact same schedule as Doohan’s except for the 2008 and 2012 flights
- Gerard K. O’Neill (1927–1992), space physicist; Krafft Ehricke (1917–1984), rocket scientist
- Leiji Matsumoto (1938–2023): Japanese creator of anime and manga series
- Majel Barrett (1932–2008): American actress who played Christine Chapel in the original Star Trek series and wife of Gene Roddenberry
- William R. Pogue (1930–2014): American astronaut
- Luise Clayborn Kaish (1925–2013): American sculptor and painter
- Nichelle Nichols (1932–2022): American actress known for her role as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek
Discussion regarding space burials
As you might imagine, the topic of space burials has spurred lots of discussion. There are currently many articles reporting this option is growing in popularity, but there is also pushback against it. Is it a frivolity? Is it littering space? Will it actually reduce funerary costs since a cremation or burial is still required and only a portion of the remains go to space?
As we’ve discussed here, there are measures in place to eliminate the “debris” at least in suborbital launches, but these questions are still being discussed for the lunar and deep space memorial spaceflights. All of these arguments, as well as others, have been made against space burials, adding to this conversation.
While there is continued, ongoing discussion about space burials, space burials have been performed in a variety of ways since the late 90s and continue today with growing interest. These memorial spaceflights are legal and have been performed both officially by NASA and commercially by a variety of companies with various packages to choose from, potentially at prices that are within your funeral budget.
If you are interested in a space burial for yourself or someone else, as we’ve discussed, there are many options available to you, allowing you or them the chance to go into space, even if it is after death.
Written by Sarah Hoffschwelle
Sarah Hoffschwelle is a freelance writer who covers a combination of topics including astronomy, general science and STEM, self-development, art, and societal commentary. In the past, Sarah worked in educational nonprofits providing free-choice learning experiences for audiences ages 2-99. As a lifelong space nerd, she loves sharing the universe with others through her words. She currently writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@sarah-marie and authors self-help and children’s books.
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William Shatner reflects on his new film, 'Star Trek,' space travel and not attending Leonard Nimoy's funeral
A new Variety interview reveals more intriguing facets of the charismatic 'Star Trek' actor as his SXSW documentary debuts.
By any standard of measurement, William Shatner has led a wonderful life.
The 91-year old actor who gained fame by gallivanting around the galaxy as Captain James T. Kirk in " Star Trek " for three decades chronicles it all in the new documentary "You Can Call Me Bill," which premiered March 16 at the SXSW festival.
Produced by XYZ Films and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, this revealing portrait has Shatner musing about mortality, nature, space travel and more. It covers the span of his prolific career, from early days aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise on TV and in feature films, and his popular small screen runs with series like "T.J. Hooker" and "Boston Legal."
On the eve of the documentary's world premiere in Austin, Texas, Variety connected with Shatner to learn more about his take on life and death, his legacy, Leonard Nimoy's funeral, a favorite role and rocketing to space with Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company, Blue Origin .
Related: William Shatner launches to space on Blue Origin's New Shepard (photos)
Here are select excerpts from that recent Variety interview :
"I've turned down a lot of offers to do documentaries before," when asked about his reasons for making the documentary. "But I don’t have long to live. Whether I keel over as I'm speaking to you or 10 years from now, my time is limited, so that's very much a factor. I've got grandchildren. This documentary is a way of reaching out after I die."
"Time and time again, I've come across some interesting thought or idea," Shatner said regarding any new insights gleaned from the new film's creation. "That can be because of a thoughtful interviewer sparking something in me. In the movie, I didn't just want to go on about 'I did this or that when I was 7' or 'this is my favorite color.' I'm trying to discover something I've never said before or to find a way to say something I've said before in a different way, so I can explore that truth further.
"The sad thing is that the older a person gets the wiser they become, and then they die with all that knowledge. And it's gone. It's not like I'm going to take my ideas or my clothing with me. Today, there's a person going through some of my clothes in order to donate or sell them, because what am I going to do with all these suits that I've got? What am I going to do with all these thoughts? What am I going to do with 90 years of observations? The moths of extinction will eat my brain as they will my clothing, and it will all disappear."
"When Leonard Nimoy died a few years ago, his funeral was on a Sunday," Shatner recalled when his controversial absence from the ceremony is brought up. "His death was very sudden, and I had obligated myself to go to Mar-a-Lago for a Red Cross fundraiser. I was one of the celebrities raising money.
"That event was on Saturday night. I chose to keep my promise and go to Mar-a-Lago instead of the funeral, and I said to the audience, 'People ask about a legacy. There's no legacy. Statues are torn down. Graveyards are ransacked. Headstones are knocked over. No one remembers anyone. Who remembers Danny Kaye or Cary Grant? They were great stars. But they're gone and no one cares.' But what does live on are good deeds. If you do a good deed, it reverberates to the end of time. It's the butterfly effect thing. That's why I have done this film."
Related: William Shatner says Earth looked 'so fragile' from space on Blue Origin flight (video)
On the subject of whether or not Shatner has a favorite role over the course of his career, the legendary icon responded by saying that he just tries to have fun on set.
"I just did a commercial for a watch that I designed," he said. "It has a face with a telescope, a sun, the Milky Way . And the watch company did this whole science fiction background for me to talk about it. Well, there's a part of the commercial where they use CGI to have a meteorite land next to me. I ad lib, 'That’s a lot of meteorite .' That was a pretty funny improv. I did that on Monday, and that's become one of my favorite moments."
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Shatner's spaceflight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft back in 2021 was an emotional reckoning for the actor, author and director.
"When I came out of the spaceship I was crying , just sobbing, and I thought, 'Why am I crying? What’s going on?' I'm in grief. What am I grieving about? Oh sh*t, I'm grieving about the world, because I now know so much about what's happening. I saw the Earth and its beauty and its destruction. It's going extinct. Billions of years of evolution may vanish. It's sacred, it's holy, it's life and it's gone. It's beyond tragic."
Click here for the full revealing (and slightly somber) Variety interview with William Shatner to celebrate the debut of "You Can Call Me Bill" at SXSW on March 16.
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Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.
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Star Trek's William Shatner blasts into space on Blue Origin rocket
- Published 13 October 2021
This video can not be played
After landing, William Shatner tearfully said the experience had been "unbelievable"
Hollywood actor William Shatner has become the oldest person to go to space as he blasted off aboard the Blue Origin sub-orbital capsule.
The 90-year-old, who played Captain James T Kirk in the Star Trek films and TV series, took off from the Texas desert with three other individuals.
Mr Shatner's trip on the rocket system - developed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos - lasted about 10 minutes.
The craft safely landed just after 10:00 local time (16:00 BST).
Those aboard got to experience a short period of weightlessness as they climbed to a maximum altitude just above 100km (60 miles). From there they were able to see the curvature of the Earth through the capsule's big windows.
"Everybody in the world needs to do this," the Canadian actor told Mr Bezos after landing back on Earth. "It was unbelievable."
In tears, he added: "What you have given me is the most profound experience. I'm so filled with emotion about what just happened. I hope I never recover from this. I hope I can retain what I feel now. I don't want to lose it."
- Safety concerns raised at Bezos space company
- 82-year-old becomes oldest-ever person in space
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Mr Shatner was joined on the flight by Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president; Chris Boshuizen, who co-founded the Earth-imaging satellite company Planet; and Glen de Vries, an executive with the French healthcare software corporation Dassault Systèmes.
They were given a couple of days' training, although there was nothing really major for them to do during the flight other than enjoy it. The rocket and capsule system, known as New Shepard, is fully automatic.
When the capsule touched down in the Texan desert, it was quickly surrounded by ground teams. Mr Bezos himself opened the hatch to check everyone inside was OK.
After the immediate celebrations with family and friends, the crew then lined up to receive their Blue Origin astronaut pins.
This was only the second crewed outing for New Shepard. The first, on 20 July, carried Mr Bezos, his brother Mark, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen; and famed aviator Wally Funk.
Afterwards, Ms Funk, being 82, was able to claim the record for the oldest person in space - a title she has now relinquished to Mr Shatner.
The launch comes amid claims that Blue Origin has a toxic work culture and failed to adhere to proper safety protocols. The mostly anonymous accusations made by former and present employees have been strenuously denied.
"That just hasn't been my experience at Blue," countered Audrey Powers, who is responsible for mission and flight operations.
"We're exceedingly thorough, from the earliest days up through now as we've started our human flights. Safety has always been our top priority."
William Shatner may have been the first person to go from Star Trek's version of space to the real thing - but three Nasa astronauts have made the opposite journey.
Mae Jemison appeared in an episode of TV sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, while Mike Fincke and Terry Virts turned up in the final episode of Enterprise, the Star Trek prequel series.
Also providing a link are Gene Roddenberry, the franchise creator, and James Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott in the original 1960s series and subsequent films. Both men had their ashes sent into space.
Space tourism is going through something of a renaissance, currently.
Throughout the 2000s a number of high-value individuals paid to visit the International Space Station (ISS). But these flights, organised under the patronage of the Russian space agency, ceased in 2009.
Now, the sector is being rekindled, and this time it looks more resilient, simply because there are many more private space companies chasing the business, and this should bring down prices for a wider pool of customers.
As well as the New Shepard trips organised by Jeff Bezos, the British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is offering rides in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
And then, of course, there's Elon Musk, whose Dragon capsule will send people orbital, to circle the Earth for several days - as it did for the privately funded Inspiration4 crew last month.
While Mr Bezos simply invites some people to fly on New Shepard, he is selling other seats. And whereas Sir Richard Branson puts a ticket price (from $450,000; £330,000) against the journey, the Amazon founder does not disclose the fees paid by the likes of Mr Boshuizen and Mr de Vries.
Blue Origin is planning one more crewed flight this year, with several more crewed flights planned for 2022.
- Human spaceflight
- Blue Origin
- Space exploration
Shatner in space: 'The most profound experience' Video, 00:01:35 Shatner in space: 'The most profound experience'