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How Space Burial Works

        Science | Afterlife

Beyond the Great Beyond

Space burials came about as a side business, an offshoot of the burgeoning commercial space sector. Like any shipping and transport business, companies hauling cargo to space prefer their cargo holds full. Gram-weight portions of human remains don't weigh much or take up much room, so they easily squeeze into a craft carrying, say, a commercial satellite or science experiment.

There's nothing unusual or untoward about shipping our cremains as cargo. Human remains are transported commercially on Earth as a matter of course; as long as they are properly packaged and metered, you can even mail them [source: USPS]. Moreover, transport providers -- terrestrial or otherwise -- tend to respect the sensitivity of the service they provide and take pains to ensure that families feel comfortable with the process.

Celestis, the sole provider of space burials when we wrote this article, invites families to gather at the liftoff site and bear witness as their loved ones shoot into space. Before the flight, the company offers tours of the local facilities and conducts a memorial service in which participants share memories of the departed. Celestis records the service on a keepsake DVD or VHS tape and makes biographies of the deceased available on a Web site.

Of course, if your vision of space burial derives from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" -- with your body floating gracefully into space in a burnished black torpedo reminiscent of a 1980s sunglasses case -- then it's time to scale back your expectations. In actuality, a lipstick- or watch-battery-sized tube will transport a "symbolic portion" (1 gram or 7 grams) of your remains heavenward [source: Celestis]. Nor will you receive much privacy as you are packed into a cargo tube with your fellow passengers.

Celestis acts as an intermediary and relies on commercial spacecraft companies, such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Orbital Sciences Corp., Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (better known as SpaceX) and UP Aerospace to provide transport to space. The typical one-to-four-stage rocket hearse ranges from 20-92.5 feet (6-28.2 meters) tall and weighs in at 780-266,000 pounds (354-120,700 kilograms) [sources: Celestis; UP Aerospace; Encyclopedia Astronautica]. It never needs to stop for traffic, with or without a police escort, and you'll be in space a brisk 90 seconds following launch -- because, let's face it, you've waited long enough.

As we'll explore in the next section, where you go from there is up to you and your pocketbook.


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