The Celestis Foundation: Private enterprise in space for the public good on earth

Since 1995, the Celestis Foundation has donated funds to organizations that promote innovative projects that improve life on Earth and stimulate our ongoing exploration of the universe. The Foundation focuses on nurturing entrepreneurial space enterprises, supporting organizations that educate our children and the general public about space, and assisting charities that create a positive future on Earth.

Houston Urban Debate LeagueFor example, the Celestis Foundation has sponsored the annual Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition, which provides college students with the opportunity to share their work on small satellite concepts and missions at the annual AIAA Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University. Other Foundation recipients have included the X PRIZE Foundation, the Houston Urban Debate League and Women of Color in Flight.

Celestis believes space should be opened to everyone. Its memorial spaceflights provide affordable ways for everyday people to fly in space, while its Foundation helps lay the groundwork for our future in space.

Celestis is the only company on the planet to have successfully conducted Memorial Spaceflight missions. Visit us at Celestis.com for more information or to arrange a Memorial Spaceflight for yourself or a loved one.

Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition
Celestis Chief Operating Officer Harvin C. Moore, left, shown with Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition Scholarship winner David Bamber, center, and Gil Moore, one of the scholarship judges.

 

The Music of Celestis

Randy VanWarmer
Randy VanWarmer has flown on several Celestis memorial spaceflights. Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Celestis memorial spaceflights are emotionally moving experiences, often driving families to cry tears of joy as they witness the liftoff of their departed loved ones into space. So it’s not surprising that musicians have composed songs about Celestis and have flown on its memorial spaceflights.

Celestis’ most famous musical participant was the late singer-songwriter Randy VanWarmer, known best for his 1979 hit single, “Just When I Needed You Most.” VanWarmer always dreamt of becoming an astronaut – a dream that was reflected in his song, “I’m Gonna Build Me a Rocket,” and in the cover of his “Terraform” album where he is featured wearing an Apollo-era spacesuit.

Whether it’s Randy VanWarmer, a Russian band that created an album inspired by Celestis (see below), or a Celestis participant and pilot who was the subject of a country music song, the music of Celestis reflects the essence of Celestis – the fulfillment of the dream of spaceflight.

Celestis is the only company on the planet to have successfully conducted Memorial Spaceflight missions. Visit us at Celestis.com for more information or to arrange a Memorial Spaceflight for yourself or a loved one.

“Another Time Another Place” from the album “Celestis: Space Ceremonial Music” composed and performed by the Russian band Cyclotimia, inspired by Celestis memorial spaceflights

The Founders Flight: The World’s First Private Memorial Spaceflight

Gene Roddenberry
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was one of the participants on board Celestis’ first memorial spaceflight,
The Founders Flight.

On April 21, 1997 Celestis made space history when it conducted the world’s first, private memorial spaceflight – The Founders Flight. On that historic day an Orbital Sciences aircraft departed the Canary Islands carrying an air-launched Pegasus rocket with the precious Celestis payload on board. The aircraft flew to an altitude of 38,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and released the winged Pegasus rocket for a five-second free fall before the main engine ignited, powering the three-stage solid fuel vehicle into low Earth orbit.  On board were Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry,  ‘60s icon Timothy Leary, space visionary Gerard K. O’Neill and 21 others.

Celestis has conducted 14 memorial spaceflights and flown over 1,000 people into space – more people than have been flown by all of the space agencies of the world combined.  Participants include not only celebrities, but also everyday people who in life were passionate about space, astronomy and science fiction.

Celestis is the only company on the planet to have successfully conducted Memorial Spaceflight missions. Visit us at Celestis.com for more information or to arrange a memorial spaceflight for yourself or a loved one.

The Celestis Founders Flight video, including footage of the tour of the aircraft that carried the rocket, the launch, and the post-launch memorial service

Learn more about The Founders Flight…

Reservations are open for our next Earth Orbit mission, The Heritage Flight

Celestis is preparing to launch its seventh Earth Orbit memorial mission, which will occur from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Celestis has named this mission “The Heritage Flight” in honor of the rich history of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s neighboring Kennedy Space Center.

The people whose ashes will fly aboard this mission will follow in the footsteps of the many astronauts who flew from the Cape, including Mercury 7 astronauts such as Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and the late L. Gordon Cooper. Indeed, Cooper has flown on several Celestis memorial spaceflights.

NASA Astronaut John McBride speaks in Cape Canaveral to Celestis families attending the Celestis New Frontier Flight memorial service held on “L-1” — the day before the scheduled launch of their loved ones into Earth orbit.


What better way to commemorate the life of someone who was fascinated by the space program, dreamed of flying in space, or wondered at the beauty of the night sky than to make them part of a Celestis memorial launch out of Cape Canaveral? Reservations are now open for this historic mission.

Celestis is the only company on the planet to have successfully conducted Memorial Spaceflight missions. Visit us at Celestis.com for more information or to arrange a Memorial Spaceflight for yourself or a loved one.

Tourists see Saturn V
Viewing the Saturn V rocket is just one of the attractions you can view at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Boldly Gone…New film captures the spirit of a Celestis launch

Boldly Gone
Two brothers (actors Dimitri Leonidas and Sean Biggerstaff) discuss the impending liftoff of their father’s ashes in Boldly Gone.

A new short feature – Boldly Gone – produced by London indie studio x and directed by Mark Buchanan, tells the story of two estranged brothers reunited as they attempt to launch their father’s ashes on a home built rocket into low earth orbit – from a field on England’s stunning North Norfolk Coast.

Starring Sean Biggerstaff (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) and Dimitri Leonidas (Monuments Men, Rosewater) with a cameo by legendary Buck Rogers actor Gil Gerard, the film blends all of the elements of a Celestis launch – grief, anticipation, exhilaration, closure, and joy – with the human story of two brothers rediscovering their own relationship.

If you’ve ever thought about choosing a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight for yourself or a loved one – or if you already have – watch this film:

Boldly Gone from xFilm on Vimeo.

Celestis Co-Founder and CEO Charles M. Chafer recently reached out to the producer, thanking the Boldly Gone team for their work and saying “it brought a tear to my eye.” In reply, producer Paul Thomas noted, “I’m sure you can see that the film was influenced by the work you do, and the fact that the ashes of Gene Roddenberry and James Doohan had been sent into space.”

Released to the public on February 3, 2016, the film has been advance showing at various festivals – including Texas’ own SXSW – for over a year.

Movie poster for George Pal’s Conquest of Space (1955).
Movie poster for George Pal’s Conquest of Space (1955). Image Credit: Pinterest.com

This isn’t the first time the topic of space funerals has made it to the movies. Science fiction movies like George Pal’s Conquest of Space (1955), or Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) portrayed funerals and memorial services in space. The Loved One, 1965’s satirical portrait of the California funeral industry of the 60s, included a space funeral.

It wasn’t until after the Celestis Founders Flight in 1997 that popular culture, including films, began to portray the reality of burial in space. 2001’s global hit Amelie included a mention of burial in space as something the character wanted to do. In 2008’s I Know You Know, Welsh film maker Justin Kerrigan included as the final scene actual footage of the Celestis Ad Astra Flight on which his father was a participant. Kerrigan has won numerous international awards, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Director award for 2000’s Human Traffic.

Even as more and more elements of our culture explore the notion of memorial spaceflights in art, song, film, and literature, it is unlikely that Boldly Gone will be eclipsed in its simple meaning and elegant story telling.

To the Moon! Celestis Luna 02 mission nears…

As the race to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize (awarded to the first private mission to land on the moon) reaches the final countdown, Celestis is poised to launch our Luna 02 Memorial Spaceflight Mission. The Luna 02 mission is scheduled for liftoff in 2017 and we’re pleased to report on the significant progress being made by two of our mission providers.

Moon Express Microlander
Artist’s rendering of a Moon Express lander on the lunar surface. MoonEx is one of our Luna Service providers.
Three craters at the Moon’s south pole named after geographer Arnaldo Faustini, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker.
Three craters at the Moon’s south pole named after geographer Arnaldo Faustini, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker. The Celestis Luna 01 mission, carrying a portion of Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes aboard NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft, impacted Shoemaker crater on July 31, 1999.

Celestis made history in 1999 when NASA requested our assistance to honor the memory of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker – the esteemed astronomer and scientist/teacher for the Apollo astronauts – by placing a symbolic portion of his ashes aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft. Our Luna 01 memorial spaceflight remains the only commercial lunar mission in history. Celestis is poised to make history again when we honor the memory of Mareta West – NASA’s first woman astrogeologist – and dozens more by launching their ashes to the moon aboard our Luna 02 mission. We have contracted with two potential mission providers for our Luna services — Moon Express, Inc. and Astrobotic, Inc. — and will select one of them to provide the Luna 02 mission. Both of these companies have recently made significant announcements and great progress toward the goal of a commercial lunar mission. We are proud to be customers.

Moon Express, Inc. and Google recently (12/8/15) announced the achievement of a significant milestone – the official verification of a launch contract that will send a Moon Express MX-1E micro lander to the lunar surface in pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize. Celestis payloads are scheduled to be aboard the micro landers.

This certification by the Google Lunar X Prize Evaluation Committee is a key eligibility requirement to contend for the prize. Moon Express is only the second global contestant to obtain it. Moon Express will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket to launch its spacecraft to the moon.

The State of Florida recently announced a matching $1 million grant to assist Moon Express in the further development of their test facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida. We are excited at the progress demonstrated by Moon Express and look forward to conducting several lunar missions with them as host.

Astrobotic, Inc. is the team founded and led by legendary technologist Dr. Red Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon University. Astrobotic has received funding from NASA to develop technologies related to its Griffin lunar rover, and has engaged corporate sponsors from Japan and other nations built around the Astrobotic mission.

Astrobotic lander over the Moon
Artist’s rendering of an Astrobotic lander approaching the Moon.

More recently, Astrobotic has extended the scope of its mission partners to include contributions from teams in Chile and Japan. In June 2015, Astrobotic announced an agreement with the Mexican Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Mexicana – AEM) to deliver Mexico’s first payload to the moon.

Celestis was one of the earliest payloads of interest for Astrobotic – we applaud their success and expect to fly multiple missions aboard their spacecraft.


The Celestis Luna Service – which can be pre arranged or purchased at time of need – is among our most popular choices. Because all lunar missions are very limited in the amount of secondary payload space available, we cannot guarantee access to the mission of your choice unless you’ve made a reservation. Click here to review options and contracts.

Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott placed this fallen astronaut memorial on the lunar surface in 1971 to commemorate the 14 U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died exploring space.
Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott placed this fallen astronaut memorial on the lunar surface in 1971 to commemorate the 14 U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died exploring space.

Earth’s nearby neighbor has beckoned to us through the ages. When, beginning in the 1960s, humanity took its first baby steps toward becoming a multi planet species – the Apollo program – it was only natural that our astronauts conducted the first lunar memorial service. During the Apollo 15 mission, astronaut Dave Scott placed a plaque on the surface of the moon commemorating the lives of 14 fallen astronauts and cosmonauts.

Decades later NASA would sponsor a second lunar memorial service with the flight of a symbolic portion of Eugene Shoemaker’s cremated remains to the Lunar South Pole. The lunar crater where Eugene Shoemaker rests in a Celestis flight capsule was subsequently named in his honor.

By making your departed loved one a part of an upcoming Celestis lunar mission, you help support the further exploration of the Moon. Consider making your loved one a part of space history with the Celestis Luna Service.

Concerning Launch Schedules and Closure

by Charles M. Chafer

Charles Chafer
Charles M. Chafer, CEO, Celestis, Inc.

Tom Petty is one of my favorite artists, and I’m often reminded – especially because I’m in the space business – of his words, “the waiting is the hardest part…”

As the Co-Founder and CEO of Celestis, Inc., I’m sometimes asked questions such as “can I get an exact launch date for my service?” or “why has my launch been delayed?” or “why can’t you give me more details about the launch services provider?”

These questions – coming from people who are considering or have already purchased our space funeral service – are completely understandable. The Celestis Memorial Spaceflight service is a compelling and special way to celebrate a life – by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains or DNA sample into space, into Earth orbit, to the Moon, or into deepest space. Because it is such a compelling service its anticipation can be a bit overwhelming, when juxtaposed against the reality of the challenges of actually achieving space travel.

The notion of a final memorial space journey has been with us at least since the dawn of the Space Age, and I’ve even traced the concept back to the 1930’s era of “pulp fiction” science fiction novellas. The very first space burial was conducted by NASA in 1992 when astronaut James Weatherbee carried a symbolic portion of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s ashes aboard Space Shuttle Columbia STS – 52.

Launch Pad tour
Remembering a loved one during a Celestis launch pad tour at Spaceport America, New Mexico

But it wasn’t until Celestis conducted its first mission – the Founders Flight in 1997, which also included Mr. Roddenberry as a participant – that the option of launching ashes into space as a final tribute became a reality for all of us.

Since 1997, we’ve conducted 14 memorial spaceflight missions. No other company has successfully completed even one – some have tried. We’ve (symbolically) sent more people into space than all Earth’s nations combined have sent astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts (Chinese astronauts), and tourists.

We’ve been able to achieve this impressive record despite the fact that – even after 55 years of spaceflight – space launch events are rare, expensive, and remain difficult to successfully accomplish. There are only approximately 45 global commercial space launches conducted PER YEAR, with only a small (but increasing) percentage of those hosting commercial secondary payloads, including Celestis. Most commercial space missions involve satellites valued in excess of $100m and require the full capability of the rocket to ensure proper orbital placement, leaving no opportunity for secondary payloads. By comparison, note that globally there are more than 100,000 commercial air flights EVERY DAY, with plenty of available cargo capacity.

Celestis has negotiated flights with proven providers of space launch services including Orbital/ATK, SpaceX, NASA, and UP Aerospace. We are one of the very first companies to contract with launch companies for small, “ride along” payloads, and we continue to find innovative ways for our participants to fulfill their final wish for a memorial spaceflight. We’ve proven again and again that we understand the complexities of providing flight ready secondary payloads without disruption to the primary mission – a matter of paramount importance to our hosts.

How We Choose a Launch Service Provider

As we consider which flight opportunities to pursue on behalf of our clients we assess three factors prior to proceeding to contract negotiations with a space mission provider. Each is important, and each requires the kind of expertise we’ve gained over 35+ years of commercial space operations – remember Celestis’ parent company Space Services launched the first-ever private rocket into outer space in 1982. When we select a mission provider, you can be assured that we have made a careful choice on your behalf.

Conestoga 1 launch
Space Services’ Conestoga 1, Sept. 9, 1982 — the first-ever private rocket launched into space

1. Affordability – The only way memorial spaceflights can remain within the reach of the average person (our Earth Rise and Earth Orbit services are priced at less than the average cost of a US funeral) is by purchasing secondary space on a rocket or spacecraft. Very few of us could afford to buy an entire rocket for ourselves!

2. Reliability – This is a key consideration. We want to give our participants the best possible chance of success on their memorial spaceflight mission. As the commercial space industry blossoms and new entrants begin to offer new launch and mission services, we are encouraged that very soon commercial secondary payloads such as Celestis will enter an era of abundant availability. But we are not there yet.

As Smithsonian pointed out in 2014, “Commercial spaceflight is off to a slow start. This makes sense, of course – going to space is hard: it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, it’s technologically challenging, and it’s a whole new legal frontier. Few nations, let alone companies, have successfully left planet Earth.”

Moreover, as new entrants emerge there is always a “proving” period during which systems are not yet fully mature and are subject to an elevated level of development delays and even inflight failures. For example, in 2003 Virgin Galactic – the “space tourism” company founded by Sir Richard Branson – announced their initial flight scheduled for 2007. In 2016 that first mission is still at least two years away, with over 700 customers waiting for one of six seats per flight once the SpaceShip 2 system is declared operational.

Branson and SpaceShip Two model
Sir Richard Branson with a model of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two. Image Credit: Pinterest.com

This is not an atypical development cycle in aerospace. I should also note that as a rule Celestis will not place one of our spacecraft on the first mission of a new launch vehicle conducted by a new launch team. We have witnessed two instances of companies that were seeking to compete with Celestis placing their payload of precious remains aboard the first flight of a new rocket – in both instances the flights failed. While missions can always fail for a variety of reasons, we believe that first missions are subject to a higher failure rate than missions employing a proven launcher and/or team – hence our avoidance of first flights.

3. Launch Location and Scheduling – As I mentioned – and as everyone who has attended one knows – Celestis launch events are perhaps the most compelling memorial services on (or off!) the planet. Many families and friends travel from all over the globe to be at the launch of their loved one into space. We’ve launched from all over the world, but our most popular missions fly from one of three US launch sites, so we tend to favor those launch sites.

Memorial Service scene
A family praises the Celestis team at a Celestis memorial service. View video of their testimonial.

Often our contract negotiations with mission providers, which often involve multiple departments within very large aerospace companies, are governed by very strict Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s). For a variety of valid reasons these service providers desire to tightly control the public release of information about their partnerships and customers. We understand these reasons and abide by all of the provisions of any NDA we sign – even including, on rare occasions, silence right up to the launch itself. Of course, in these extreme instances we use private means of communication to keep the family members and friends of our participants informed.

Once we’ve reached agreement with a launch services provider to host a Celestis payload, the next step in getting to a launch is called “manifesting,” which means committing the Celestis payload to a specific launch or spacecraft.

The Nature of Launch Countdowns

Space shuttle launch
The majority of NASA space shuttle missions experienced launch delays.

When a Celestis launch is manifested and scheduled, and the Celestis payload is integrated onto the rocket or spacecraft, the countdown to launch commences. For some of our missions – especially the Earth Rise Service – the count is smooth, the launch date predictable, and there is overall relative schedule certainty. For others – for a variety of reasons – the schedule is much less predictable. Again, this is not uncommon in the space business.

For example, NASA’s Space Shuttle – one of the most expensive launch vehicles ever developed – launched on schedule about 40 percent of the time. A 2008 analysis by the Associated Press found that of the 118 Shuttle flights that had flown at the time, only 47 lifted off on time. So even with the best technology NASA can generate, launch schedules in the modern era are at best estimates of projected launch dates.

All of this may seem rather daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Memorial spaceflights are meant as celebrations, achievements, and the fulfillment of dreams. Who can put a schedule on reaching these amazing goals? Part of the reason the waiting is so difficult is that the reward is so special.

The first president of Space Services, astronaut Deke Slayton, was originally scheduled to be on the second Mercury orbital flight in 1962. Deke was grounded by a heart murmur and had to wait 13 years and visit countless doctors before he was able to launch into space aboard Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 – it was that important to him.

James Doohan
Star Trek actor James Doohan has flown on several Celestis memorial spaceflights. See what his wife, Wende Doohan, says about launch schedule changes. Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Fortunately, no one has had to or ever will wait that long for a memorial spaceflight. The current incredible growth of commercial space activities guarantees that more and more, the choice to commemorate someone’s life with a memorial spaceflight is an achievable goal. With Celestis, one can be assured that even though we are still in the “Wright Brothers era” of commercial spaceflight, we will continue to offer our uniquely compelling memorial service through an ever increasing number of providers, offering ever more choices for people all over the world.

What is more appropriate as we become a multi-planet species than to take our rituals, memorials, and remembrance practices along with us? Celestis is the pioneer, but the families of Celestis participants – often patiently waiting for the next flight – are the real reason why we are able to offer this most compelling memorial service. That’s the reason we keep each family fully informed of the latest launch news, take the time to answer each family’s questions, and provide families a truly memorable launch experience — whether they attend the launch and related activities in person or online. In short, our mission is to help families fulfill their departed loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight. While launch schedules may change, in the end making spaceflight dreams come true is what our service is all about.

Celestis in National Museum of Funeral History

Celestis participant James Doohan
This photo of Celestis participant James Doohan (Star Trek‘s “Mr. Scott”) is part of the permanent Celestis display at the National Museum of Funeral History.

Celestis is part of a permanent exhibit at the National Museum of Funeral History, which is located in Houston, Texas.  The exhibit honors Celestis and some of the past notable figures Celestis has flown into space, including Mercury 7 Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry and Star Trek actor James Doohan who played “Mr. Scott.” On display are pictures and replicas of the flight containers that carried these celebrities’ cremated remains in space, engraved with their names and flight messages.

The Celestis exhibit provides an overview of our memorial spaceflight services and features a model of the SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle, built and flown by UP Aerospace, that flies our Earth Rise Service missions into space from Spaceport America, New Mexico. The museum decided to honor Celestis as we are the only private company to have conducted memorial spaceflights.

Called “Thanks for the Memories,” the exhibit honors not only Celestis, but also iconic figures in history such as Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. “Thanks for the Memories” is dedicated to capturing and highlighting the magnificent and interesting ways society has bid farewell to some of the world’s most famous figures.

“The National Museum of Funeral History has been grateful for the working relationship with Celestis Memorial Spaceflights,” said Genevieve Keeney, President of the museum. “It has allowed us to enhance the exhibit with the artifacts of some of our most well-known space icons: James Doohan, Gordon Cooper and Gene Roddenberry.”

Part of the Celestis exhibit at the National Funeral Home Museum
Part of the Celestis display at the National Museum of Funeral History, which chose Celestis as the only company that has conducted memorial spaceflights.  Shown here are a model of the UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle, a photo of a Celesits launch from Spaceport America, and replicas of the Celestis flight modules that have flown the cremated remains of Gene Roddenberry, James Doohan and L. Gordon Cooper into space.

Continue reading “Celestis in National Museum of Funeral History”

Watch Our Video About The Celestis Experience

The Conestoga Flight Video

We invite you to watch this beautiful video showing what families and friends of those on board Celestis’ Conestoga Flight experienced as they fulfilled their departed loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight at Spaceport America in October 2014.  You’ll see the non-sectarian memorial service where families and friends of those on board the mission shared their memories of their departed loved ones.  You’ll see the families touring the launch pad and mission control.  You’ll see the launch from the striking setting of the New Mexican desert.  And you’ll see families reacting to the launch they’ve just witnessed. Continue reading “Watch Our Video About The Celestis Experience”