Outer-space ventures offer personal touch

Rocketeers prepare for the liftoff of Beyond-Earth Enterprise's Launch Craft 1 in April 2004. Another rocket is due to send personal "DNA kits" on a brief flight in October.
Rocketeers prepare for the liftoff of Beyond-Earth Enterprise's Launch Craft 1 in April 2004. Another rocket is due to send personal "DNA kits" on a brief flight in October.Beyond-earth Enterprises
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even if you can't afford the $20 million for a launch into Earth orbit, you can still put a little piece of yourself into space for as little as $35.

Several companies have entered the market to provide relatively low-cost space experiences for the common folk — by launching mementos, hair samples or even mortal remains to the final frontier.

For example, cremated remains from 187 people — including "Star Trek" actor James Doohan and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper — are due to be sent into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket sometime in March. The families of the dearly departed paid between $995 to $5,300 for the sendoff, arranged by Houston-based Space Services Inc.

“It broadens the market, which is important to us because our whole business plan is about getting more people access to space,” said Space Services' Harvin Moore. “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 Greg 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.

Memorials and mementos
Kathie Mayo knew her 19-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.

In this undated photo provided by Space Services Inc., the capsules shown will hold the ashes of 187 people whose families have paid between $995 to $5,300 to launch them into space in a rocket. Ashes belonging to actor James Doohan, who played chief engineer Montgomery Scott on "Star Trek," and Mercury program astronaut Gordon Cooper are among those being launched next month in the privately-built Falcon 1 rocket. (AP Photo/Space Services Inc., HO)Space Services Inc. / SPACE SERVICES INC.

“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 mementos 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.”

Scotty and Gordo
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 the Falcon 1 rocket, with the Air Force's TacSat 1 satellite as the primary payload. 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.