People interested in an out-of-this-world post-death experience can "boldly go where no man has gone before" with a space memorial service that blasts their ashes into space.
For $995, Space Services Inc., will place a gram of a person's ashes in an aluminum capsule — about the size of four dimes stacked together — attach it to a rocket and send it into space. For $4,300 more, seven grams of ashes are transported in a lipstick-size container.
"Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, who orbited Earth for six years after his death in 1991, is the most famous client of Space Services. Part of the mission of "Star Trek: The Original Series" was "to boldly go where no man has gone before."
"It's very compelling for people ... and we've helped open a new frontier," said Charlie Chafer, chief executive of the Houston-based firm.
Space Services was among some 440 companies offering their services in Nashville on Tuesday at the annual National Funeral Directors Association Convention, which included booths hawking everything from caskets and hearses to burial gowns and "comfort music" that promotes "growing through grief."
Space Services conducted its first "space funeral flight" in 1997 with Roddenberry's ashes and those of 23 participants from all walks of life, including a 4-year-old Japanese boy, a restaurateur from New York and a couple of former NASA scientists.
In each flight, Chafer and his eight-person team place the ash-filled capsules in a tube and attach them inside a rocket scheduled to send a satellite into space. Once in orbit, the satellite peels off from the rocket's "last stage," which continues to circle the earth with the capsules inside.
"We basically hitchhike," said Chafer, who buys unneeded space from companies that use the crafts to launch satellites — typically at a cost of $30,000 a trip.
The capsules normally stay in orbit between 10 and several hundred years before falling and "vaporizing like a shooting star," Chafer said.
Four other trips followed the 1997 flight, culminating with the company's most recent launch in September 2001. Chafer said that trip, which included the remains of 50 people, was not successful because the capsule did not orbit Earth one full time.
They'll get a second chance at no charge when flights resume this January with more than 100 scheduled participants — the first of three launches planned for 2005.
Chafer says he's seen an upswing in business as cremation has increased in popularity across the country and abroad. In 2002, about 28 percent of Americans chose cremation over traditional burial, and that number is expected to grow to almost 43 percent by 2025, according to the Cremation Association of North America.
Eternal Ascent Society, a Crystal River, Fla.-based exhibitor at the convention, also was looking to capitalize on that growth.
For $1,000, the company fills a 5-foot-wide helium balloon with about a pound of ash, which family members release into the air during a special ceremony, said George Hampton, whose mother and stepfather founded the company.
Across the way from Eternal Ascent's booth, an Illinois-based company was using science to turn carbon from the cremation process into diamonds for the family of the deceased.
The jewelry, which comes in either gold or blue, gives the family a way to "keep their loved one with them," said Rusty VandenBiesen, chief operating officer for LifeGem.
"People find it a comfort," he said. "A new way to celebrate the life of a loved one."