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How Space Burial Works

        Science | Afterlife

Now, Voyager

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that sending cargo into space is anything but cheap, so Celestis offers four kinds of space memorial service to match various budgets and goals [source: Celestis].

Earth Rise provides a parabolic flight during which your ashes will spend four to five minutes in space before returning to the ground. Celestis then recovers the capsule, validates its journey into the black and returns the family's portion as a keepsake. On April 28, 2007, the partial remains of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, actor James Doohan and almost 200 others took this jaunt aboard a UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket. Cost: $995 for 1 gram of remains.

Earth Orbit launches the remains into orbit, although not forever -- more like 10 to 240 years. Your mileage may vary according to flight mechanics, ship and orbital path. When the orbit decays, the craft and the remains will vaporize in the Earth's atmosphere like a shooting star. Cooper's and Doohan's remains were also on this flight, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket, on Aug. 3, 2008, but the rocket failed two minutes after launch. Subsequent flights have been more successful. Cost: $2,995 for 1 gram of remains.

Luna shoots your ashes to the moon, hitching a ride with research payloads already headed to the surface or lunar orbit. So far, only one set of partial remains has made this trip, when Eugene Shoemaker's ashes traveled to the moon aboard the NASA Lunar Prospector mission. Shoemaker is best remembered as the co-discoverer of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Cost: $9,995 for 1 gram of remains.

Voyager will send you on the grand tour, beyond the solar system and into the vast deep of space itself -- once it launches. The remains of Gene and Majel Roddenberry are scheduled to take this trip in 2014. Cost: $12,500 for 1 gram of remains.

All of the prices listed are for 1 gram of remains. For twice that price, you can send 7 grams instead and, for an additional 50 percent on top of either price, Celestis will launch samples of two people together [source: Celestis]

Other space memorial services have been offered in the past, but the companies appear to now be defunct, leaving Celestis as the only game in town.

With all this talk of space burials, it's worth considering how all of this might play out in the future. In this next section, we'll look at the face of space burial as humankind explores the dark frontier and colonizes distant worlds.