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SpaceX sends human remains to space

SpaceX is about to launch 152 dead people’s remains into orbit aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is gearing up for its third ever launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, the world’s most powerful operational launch system. The mission, called Space Test Program-2, is slated to lift off between 11:30pm and 2:30am on June 25th.

But the number of ‘souls on board’ this particular flight is set to make SpaceX history. Along with a huge checklist of commercial cargo, embarking on the flight will be 152 metal capsules packed with human ashes – 152 deceased whose families have paid to have private company Celestis ensure that a part of their loved ones spends eternity in space.

Celestis Memorial Sapceflights is part of a growing trend of ‘unconventional’ funeral rites that are cropping up all over the Western world. More and more US states are permitting preservative-free ‘green’ burials, while others allow for both body composting and decomposition using alkaline hydrolysis. Whilst people generally choose these alternative methods to reduce family costs and environmental impact, the same can’t be said for those who wish to have their remains launched into space.

Prices to head skyward with Celestis start at just under $5000 USD to fly 1 gram of ‘participant’ cremains (cremated remains) into orbit, with the choice to go up to seven grams (I guess that means you’re seven times more likely to have your DNA cloned by passer-by aliens). According to Celestis’ website, you can also bid for a spot aboard a deep-space or lunar flight, which could set you back $12,500 USD.

SpaceX has launched cremains into orbit before, but this will be their biggest even payload from a celestial funeral firm (I’m copywriting that btw). Since 1994 Celestis has flown cremains aboard 15 different rockets: eight up-and-down suborbital flights, six into orbit around Earth, and one that crashed into the moon (surely that’s the golden ticket). The way the company operates is to ‘bid’ for room on upcoming missions, generally with private aerospace companies like SpaceX – though they have worked with NASA before.

Current and future ‘participants’ include space enthusiast, scientists, engineers, astronauts, authors, and children. For example, Celestis took some of the remains of Star Trek actor James Doohan into orbit in 2008.

But for these 152 souls to enter orbit as intended, SpaceX will have to pull of what Musk is calling ‘our most difficult launch ever.’ The variety and complexity of the upcoming Falcon mission is owing to a multitude of high-stakes performance requirements, US military and NASA oversight, several technical milestones, challenging booster recoveries, and the juggling act of handling two dozen satellites.

The various spacecraft must be launched into several different orbits using multiple engine burns. NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock is hitching a ride on one of the satellites – a device which may change the way astronauts and robots navigate space. Another satellite is hosting the Planetary Society’s LightSail, an experiment that could change how vehicles propel themselves on Earth (someone had better tell the planetary society that they’re about to go off-world).

The 152 capsules of human ash are housed in the same satellite as the NASA clock. If SpaceX manages to launch them successfully, it means that the company will have taken a massive leap towards being able to offer competitive launch services that can fulfil all the spaceflight needs of both the government and citizens. SpaceX have always billed themselves as a prospective space courier of both goods and people, and the more they prove their ability to transport delicate cargo the more likely it is that they’ll rise to the top of the space travel field.

Long gone are the days where your options for final disposition were burial or cremation. We can expect Gen Z to plan for their end of life in myriad different ways meaningful to them, and if you ask me to spend eternity amongst the stars is a fairly good option.