A final request of Canadian actor James Doohan will be honored later this year, when a portion of his ashes will be blasted into space. Doohan, who built a huge following among fans of the Star Trek series for his role as chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, died on July 20, 2005, from a combination of Alzheimer's and pneumonia.
The bulk of his remains were scattered over Puget Sound in Washington, but two small portions were retained for memorialization in space. On April 28, a seven-gram container of Doohan's ashes will be included in a memorial spaceflight service provided by Celestis, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Space Services, Inc. Doohan's remains will be joined by those of more than 200 other individuals, including "Mercury 7" astronaut Gordon Cooper.
The payload, dubbed the "Legacy Flight" by Celestis, will be carried into a suborbital altitude by a rocket launched by UP Aerospace at New Mexico's "Spaceport America," a facility located near the White Sands Missile Range. After achieving its intended altitude, the memorial canister will parachute to Earth and the individual remains will be returned to family members with a commemorative plaque.
Space Flight Ambassador
In a statement posted to the Space Services Web site, Doohan's widow Wende said that her husband was proud to serve as an ambassador for space flight. "[Jimmy] promoted space exploration and travel wherever he went," she wrote. "I can't think of a more fitting send-off than having some of his fans attend this, his final journey." Fans of Doohan are invited to post messages that will be digitized and sent into space with his ashes.
Celestis CEO Charles Chafer echoed Wende Doohan's comments. "Space remains the domain of the few, the dream of many," he said in a press statement last week. "With Celestis, the dream of spaceflight, and the desire to take part in the opening of the space frontier, can be realized -- and is available to everyone."
As Chafer noted, space tourism remains out of reach for all but the most well-heeled adventurers. The going rate for a window seat on a shuttle to the International Space Station is still $10 to $20 million and even Sir Richard Branson, who hopes to replicate his low-cost cost airline success when he launches Virgin Galactic next year from Spaceport America, is pricing individual seats at $200,000.
For comparison's sake, $200,000 is approximately 200 round trips from New York to London on Virgin Atlantic, or a little less than six times the distance from Earth to the Moon. By contrast, the cost of sending a portion of one's remains into Earth orbit with Celestis ranges from $995 for one gram of cremated remains to $5,300 for seven grams. The company also offers lunar orbit or landing for $12,500, and launch into deep space ("The Voyager Service") for $12,500.
Actor's Final Frontier
A company called ZeroG Aerospace also had plans to partner with UP Aerospace to launch human remains for as little as $49.50, but in a sign that post-mortem space tourism still has a ways to go, the company's Web site is no longer active.
Another portion of Doohan's ashes will be launched into space toward the end of 2007. That launch, which Celestis describes as "The Explorers Launch," will be handled by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which recently succeeded in launching one of its Falcon rockets over 200 miles into space.
The ashes carried on that rocket will remain in Earth orbit for an undetermined period of time, until the memorial canister is pulled down into Earth's atmosphere and burns up.