When you pass away, there are many ways you can choose to be celebrated — from traditional funerals to being planted next to a tree to having your ashes spread in the ocean.
Another option? Send ashes into space.
“People that are choosing how they want a loved one’s life remembered, including their own, have a lot more options,” said Charles Chafer, the CEO and co-founder of Celestis Inc.
Yes, that includes the ability to launch ashes or DNA, like hair, for example, either into Earth’s orbit or to the moon.
“We’re helping the overall push of humanity out into the cosmos,” Chafer said.
Chafer said Celestis partners with satellite and rocket companies to send the individualized flight capsules. The company was founded in 1994 and has done 18 memorial space flights since it started.
Celestis offers a number of services. The first is its Earth view service, which launches a capsule of remains into space, and it exists in space for a while on a spacecraft. When it is subjected to gravity, it re-enters via parachute. The capsule is recovered and given to the family as a keepsake.
The next option is an Earth orbital service. The capsule is on board a spacecraft that orbits from a few years to a few hundred years, can be tracked, and then burns up when the laws of physics bring the spacecraft back into the atmosphere. The last option is a lunar service in which a capsule is put into a lunar lander and lands on the moon.
According to the Cremation Association of North America, cremation is on the rise. In 2006, the cremation rate in the U.S. was 3.8%. In 2021, it was 57.5%.
With the rise in cremation, Chafer said he’s seen more interest in the service.
Starting in May, Celestis is taking it a step further with its first deep space forever mission as part of the United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket. Some capsules will be sent to the moon with the lunar mission, while others will go into deep space.
“We will be flying that first mission with, I think, approximately 250 participants on board,” he said.
Some of the participants include ashes from the original "Star Trek" cast and hair from former presidents including George Washington, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower.
“Many years ago, we were doing a DNA mission and we got an anonymous donation of presidential hair,” Chafer said.
So how much does something like this cost? Chafer said it starts at $3,000 for the Earth view service.
For comparison, the median cost of a funeral as of 2021 was $7,848, and the median cost of a funeral with cremation was $6,970, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
“I like to dispel the notion that this is only something that rich people can do,” Chafer said.
Chafer also noted that the individual capsules are loaded into trays and the trays stay mounted to the satellite or rocket they travel with.
“Never released, always staying attached to something that's going there anyway, so we don't really add anything net to the space environment, which concerns some people,” he said.
This is just one way people are choosing to honor the life of their loved ones that’s different from a traditional funeral.
“The fact that you can do all these things now, I think it's by far the fastest growing element of the funeral industry,” Chafer said.