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Space burial is the practice of disposing of human remains in outer space. Space burials are usually performed by launching a small capsule, containing a sample of cremation ashes of the deceased, into orbit using a rocket. It may thus be described as a symbolic act rather than actual burial.
The concept of launching remains into space using conventional rockets was proposed by the science fiction author Neil R. Jones in the novella "The Jameson Satellite", which was published in the pulp magazine "Amazing Stories" in 1931. It was later proposed as a commercial service by Richard DeGroot in a Seattle Times newspaper article on April 3, 1977. Since 1997, the private company Celestis has conducted numerous space burials, usually as part of a third-party space mission.
The first space burial, Celestis' Earthview 01: The Founders Flight, was launched on April 21, 1997. An aircraft carried a modified Pegasus rocket containing samples of the remains of 24 people to an altitude of 11 km (38,000 ft) above the Canary Islands. The rocket then carried the remains into an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 578 km (359 mi) and a perigee of 551 km (342 mi), orbiting the Earth once every 96 minutes until reentry on May 20, 2002, northeast of Australia. Famous people buried on this flight included Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary.
The second known space burial was the burial of a sample of the remains of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker on the moon. At the suggestion of colleague Carolyn Porco, Shoemaker's ashes were launched aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft on January 6, 1998 by a three-stage Athena rocket. The ashes were accompanied by a laser-engraved epitaph on a small piece of foil. The spacecraft crashed on command into the south polar region of the moon on July 31, 1999.
List of space burials
- April 21, 1997: 24 remains samples launched into Earth orbit on a modified Pegasus rocket
- January 6, 1998: Sample of the remains of Eugene Shoemaker launched as secondary payload on a three-stage Athena rocket to the moon
- February 10, 1998: 30 remains samples as a secondary payload launched into Earth orbit on a Taurus rocket
- December 20, 1999: 36 remains samples as a secondary payload launched into Earth orbit on a Taurus rocket
- September 21, 2001: 43 remains samples as a secondary payload failed to be launched into Earth orbit on a Taurus rocket
- January 19, 2006: Sample of the remains of Clyde Tombaugh on the New Horizons spacecraft launched by an Atlas V rocket to Pluto
- August 3, 2008: 208 remains samples flown as a secondary payload, lost in the failure of a Falcon 1 rocket
- May 22, 2012: 308 remains samples successfully launched as a secondary payload along with SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket
Notable individuals buried in space
Launched into Earth orbit on April 21, 1997
- Gene Roddenberry (August 19, 1921–October 24, 1991), creator of Star Trek.
- Gerard K. O'Neill (1927–1992), space physicist.
- Krafft Ehricke (1917–1984), rocket scientist.
- Timothy Leary, (October 22, 1920–May 31, 1996), American writer, psychologist, psychedelic drug advocate, and former Harvard professor.
Buried on the Moon on July 31, 1999
- Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, (April 28, 1928–July 18, 1997), astronomer and co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9.
Launched into Earth orbit on December 20, 1999
- Charles Oren Bennett (January 21, 1928 – 1999), space illustrator.
Launched into outer space in a trajectory out of the solar system on January 19, 2006
- Clyde Tombaugh (February 4, 1906–January 17, 1997), American astronomer and discoverer of Pluto in 1930. The ashes are aboard New Horizons, the first spacecraft to attempt to pass by and photograph Pluto. This is the first set of human remains which will escape the solar system to travel among the stars.
Launched into Earth orbit on May 22, 2012
- James Doohan, (March 3, 1920–July 20, 2005), actor best known for his portrayal of Scotty in the television and film series Star Trek.
- Leroy Gordon "Gordo" Cooper, Jr. (March 6, 1927–October 4, 2004), American astronaut. He was one of the original Mercury Seven pilots in the Project Mercury program, the first manned space effort by the United States.
Future space burials
- "The Jameson Satellite" (Amazing Stories, July 1931; Amazing Stories, April 1956 (reprint); Ace Books collection #1, 1967.
- John Hinterberger: The Seattle Times Sunday Magazine, page 3, April 3, 1977.
- Porco, Carolyn. "The Eugene M. Shoemaker Tribute". Diamond Sky Productions. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
- Porco, Carolyn C. (February 2000). "Destination Moon". Astronomy. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
- Rikki King (2012-05-24). "Dog's ashes may have been sneaked on to space flight". Everett Herald. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "Falcon 1 suffers another setback". Spaceflight Now. August 3, 2008. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
- Moskowitz, Clara (2012-05-22). "Ashes of Star Trek's 'Scotty' Ride Private Rocket Into Space". New York: Space.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-22. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
- Celestis - The Legacy flight