The Tribute Flight

Stars over Chaco Canyon

The stars over an ancient Native American building in Chaco Canyon, NM

Celestis’ 7th Earth Rise Service mission, The Tribute Flight, is dedicated to all of those represented on board the mission, as well as to the ancient Native Americans of northwestern New Mexico whose thousand-year-old architecture speaks of a culture that was very much in tune with the motions of the Sun, the Moon and the stars — much like the people on board Celestis memorial spaceflights who, in life, wondered at the beauty and majesty of the heavens above. In this article we explore some of the ancient art and architecture of the people who lived in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico a millennium ago.

American Indian peoples have continuously occupied the Colorado Plateau of the Southwest for over 10,000 years. From about AD 860 – 1150, the people of Chaco Canyon (in modern New Mexico) created monumental public and ceremonial buildings, most of which were precisely aligned along north-south lines.  Although the Chacoan people did not leave a written record, the archaeological evidence suggests that shamans (basically, Chacoan priests) used markings on these buildings and on nearby cliffs to determine the exact onset of astronomically-significant events, such as the precise dates of the changing of the seasons.  These events not only would prove practical for their agricultural-based society, but would also likely mark the time periods for significant ceremonial/religious events.

Una Vida and Fajada Butte

A 9th century Chacoan ruin in the foreground with Fajada Butte in the background. Image Credit:Russ Bodnar

Without a written record, interpreting exactly how the Chacoans used their astronomically-aligned buildings and significant landmarks is much like interpreting how the ancient people of Great Britain used Stonehenge.  Perhaps the most prominent interpretation of Chacoan culture has been made by Anna Sofaer of The Solstice Project.  In the 1970s Sofaer discovered the famous “Sun Dagger” phenomenon on Chaco Canyon’s Fajada Butte: This phenomenon reads like something straight out of a Raiders of the Lost Ark movie.  Each year on the summer solstice (when summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere) a narrow ray of sunlight shines through a set of massive stones and strikes the exact center of a spiral diagram etched long ago by Native Americans on a side of Fajada Butte.  Rays of sunlight strike other, significant parts of the spiral diagram on the days that mark the onset of fall, winter and spring.  Sofaer’s study of Chaco Canyon formed the basis of a 1982 PBS documentary narrated by Robert Redford called “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.”

Sun Jagger

The “Sun Dagger” — a narrow ray of sunlight that strikes the middle of an ancient, spiral etching on the first day of summer.  The etching, called a “petroglyph,” is located on a side of Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

While scholars debate why the ancient people of Chaco Canyon built their fascinating buildings and perfectly aligned roads stretching miles into the desert, there can be no doubt that the Chacoan people placed great emphasis on observation of the Sun and night sky. Surely they felt the same way about the cosmos that many of us do today — that we are all part of, and connected to, the universe.

In many Native American cultures the Milky Way is interpreted as a bridge over which the souls of the dead walk to the afterlife.  As Celestis launches departed loved ones into the New Mexico sky, we are fulfilling long-held dreams of travel amongst the stars.  So it is appropriate that we dedicate our next Earth Rise mission to the ancient peoples of Chaco Canyon.

Crab Nebula

The inset shows a pictograph from Chaco Canyon depicting what may be the extremely bright supernova of 1054 AD (represented by the star-symbol at lower, left). The supernova was visible during daylight hours for several weeks in 1054, and was recorded by Chinese, Japanese and Arabic astronomers.  The crescent shape likely represents the crescent Moon that appeared near the supernova when the supernova first became visible. The hand symbol likely indicates that the pictograph is located in a place that was sacred to the Chacoans. Since 1054 the exploded star has expanded into the beautiful “Crab Nebula” (the main image shown here) that is so well known to today’s astronomers. The Chacoans would surely have appreciated its modern splendor!

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Name that mission contest!

Conestoga Flight mission patch

The Conestoga Flight mission patch

We invite you to suggest a name for our next Earth Rise Service mission, which is scheduled for launch on November 5, 2015.  The winner of the contest will receive a mission patch that we have flown in space, together with a certificate of authenticity! Read More »

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You Have Two Launch Opportunities in 2015!

In this video Suzan Cooper, wife of Mercury 7 astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, describes the launch of her husband on a Celestis memorial spaceflight as “the perfect experience.”  Another astronaut, William Pogue, will fly on our next Earth Orbit mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Launch Pad tour

Remembering a loved one during a Celestis launch pad tour

Celestis has two exciting memorial spaceflights scheduled for 2015:

Our 7th Earth Orbit mission is scheduled for liftoff in the 4th quarter of 2015 from historic Cape Canaveral, where the American space program began. The family of Skylab astronaut William Pogue, along with families of everyday people who shared William Pogue’s passion for space, have chosen to honor their loved ones on this Celestis memorial spaceflight.  If your departed loved one was also fascinated by the space program, marveled at the beauty of the night sky, or imagined what the future of humanity in space may be, consider including your loved one on this memorial spaceflight.

On November 5, 2015 we will launch our 7th Earth Rise mission, The Tribute Flight, from the majestic setting of Spaceport America, New Mexico.  For thousands of years Native Americans lived in harmony with the Earth and the skies above in what New Mexicans correctly call the “Land of Enchantment.”  Now, the Celestis Earth Rise launch from Spaceport America provides a way for everyone who, in life, felt an integral part of the universe to fly to the stars.

Should you decide to commemorate your departed loved one with a Celestis memorial spaceflight this year, it is fitting that — in addition to viewing your loved one’s flight into space and to attending other launch-related activities — you’ll be able to see unique points of interest related to space exploration.

Apollo Command Module KSC Visitor Complex

An Apollo Command Module display at the KSC Visitor Complex

Adjoining Cape Canaveral is NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where you can see the types of spacecraft and launch facilities that played a central role in the American space program.  The KSC Visitor Complex, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the famed sands of Cocoa Beach are just some of the interesting places you can visit in the KSC area.  Should you choose our Nov. 5 Earth Rise mission at Spaceport America, you can visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum, the famous hot springs of the nearby city of Truth or Consequences, and the new Spaceport America Visitor Center in Truth or Consequences.

Important Note: Space is limited on both of these missions, and we integrate the cremated remains into each launch vehicle far in advance of each launch.  So to ensure your loved one will have a place on either flight, we recommend making your reservation as soon as possible.  Contact us for more information.

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NASA memorial spaceflight carries astronomer to Pluto

This is the second in our new series of articles about the history of memorial spaceflights.

When the late American astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930, he opened the gateway to an unknown region of ancient, icy objects unlike any worlds in our solar system — and touched off a revolution in our understanding of Earth’s ever-expanding planetary neighborhood.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is speeding toward the planet he discovered, carrying a small amount of his ashes along with the dreams of all who, like this Kansas farm boy, gazed toward the heavens in the name of exploration and discovery. New Horizons, the first mission to Pluto, will fly past Pluto on July 14, 2015 and provide the closest look ever at the ninth planet while completing the initial reconnaissance of the solar system. Read More »

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Remembering a Loved One with a Trip to the Moon

MoonLovers meeting in the moonlight, kids gazing at the Moon through their telescopes, dreamers wishing they could visit Earth’s closest astronomical companion, aerospace professionals who have helped astronauts actually visit the Moon … All appreciate the personal, cultural and historic significance the Moon has for people everywhere.  Celestis makes it possible for everyone to fulfill the dream of lunar travel with our Luna Service missions. Read More »

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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. Read More »

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Rare NASA Memorial Spaceflight Honors Engineer

Orion capsule

Orion capsule mockup at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (Clemens Vasters of Viersen, Germany)

This is the first in our new series of articles about the history of memorial spaceflights.

NASA marked a major milestone in December 2014 as its new Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, orbiting Earth and traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years.

Although NASA described the December 2014 mission as an “uncrewed test,” there was actually a crew of one on board.  A portion of the cremated remains of Patrick O’Malley flew on the 4 1/2 hour spaceflight.  O’Malley, a 37-year-old aeronautical engineer, had worked on the Orion program for over a decade.  After he passed away as a result of an undiagnosed brain illness, his co-workers at Lockheed Martin requested that a part of his cremated remains fly on this historic NASA mission.  His family supported the idea: both of his parents and his two daughters attended the launch.

As a memorial spaceflight, this Orion mission resembled a cross between Celestis’ Earth Orbit and Earth Rise service missions.  Like the next Celestis Earth Orbit mission scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2015, the Orion spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and orbited our home planet.  But like the next Celestis Earth Rise mission scheduled for liftoff in November 2015, the Orion capsule returned O’Malley’s cremated remains to Earth.

NASA rarely launches cremated remains into space.  Indeed, this was only the fourth NASA mission to do so.  We’ll discuss the other three NASA missions in future blog articles about the history of memorial spaceflight.

Orion capsule recovery at sea

The USS Anchorage moves into position to recover the Orion space capsule on December 5, 2014. Like the cremated remains that flew on board this NASA mission, the cremated remains flown on Celestis Earth Rise missions are returned to families after spaceflight. (NASA)

Orion blazed into the morning sky of December 5, 2014 at 7:05 a.m. EST, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Orion crew module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

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The Legacy Flight

Randy Van Warmer

Musician Randy Van Warmer, who wrote and recorded the #1 hit song, “Just When I Needed You Most,” was one of over 200 people on board The Legacy Flight.

Celestis conducted its first Earth Rise Service mission, The Legacy Flight, on April 28, 2007 from Spaceport America, New Mexico. The spacecraft, carrying the cremated remains of over 200 people, flew into space and returned to Earth. After the flight, Celestis returned the flown ashes – still sealed in their spaceflight capsules – to each family as keepsakes.

Among those on board this mission were Star Trek actor James Doohan (who played “Scotty”) and Mercury 7 astronaut L. Gordon Cooper.  Over 300 guests and media representatives from around the world witnessed the flawless launch of the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket!

But there’s more to a Celestis launch than the flight itself — exciting as that truly is!  Before the launch families and friends of those on board The Legacy Flight toured the launch pad and mission control.  They met with UP Aerospace and Celestis personnel, asked questions

Family hugging

A Legacy Flight family shares the joy of fulfilling their loved one’s spaceflight wish.

about the mission, and took photos of the spacecraft that would carry their loved ones into space.  Celestis also conducted a memorial service for the people on board the mission.

Celesits conducts Earth Rise spaceflights each year. The service is easy to arrange and surprisingly affordable.  For more information contact us: We’ll be happy to mail you an information kit, and answer any questions you may have.

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The Founders Flight

Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a participant on Celestis’ first memorial spaceflight, The Founders Flight.

On April 21, 1997 Celestis conducted the world’s first private memorial spaceflight. An air-launched rocket – Orbital Sciences Corporation’s (OSC)Pegasus XL – was released from OSC’s Stargazer aircraft at an altitude of approximately 38,000 feet (11.6 kilometers) over the Atlantic Ocean at 7:00 am Eastern Standard Time. The Pegasus XL free-fell for five seconds before its first stage engine ignited. The three stages of the Pegasus XL carried the cremated remains of 24 Celestis participants into low Earth orbit. The launch garnered worldwide media coverage from such media outlets as the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Among the 24 people whose lives were commemorated by this historic mission were:

Gene Roddenberry – the creator of Star Trek. NASA had flown Mr. Roddenberry’s cremated remains into Earth orbit before – on a 1992 space shuttle Columbia mission. But of course, although flying on the shuttle was certainly a high honor, that shuttle mission orbited Earth for only a few days, whereas the Founders Flight orbited Earth for over five years. Both Mr. Roddenberry and his wife, Majel (who passed away in 2008) will fly together on Celestis inaugural Voyager Service Mission into deep space.

Timothy Leary — the famous 1960s pop icon.  Quoting from his Celestis biography, “I wanted to be a philosopher. Aristotle, Plato, Voltaire and all these guys who were out there in nirvana. I discovered as I grew up that I was different. Life was to have adventures and quests and Huckleberry Finn.”

Benson Hamlin – an aeronautical engineer who, while working for Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, New York, was the principal designer of the preliminary concept for the Bell X-1, the first supersonic aircraft. The Bll X-1 is on permanent display in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

Bell X-1

Celestis participant Benson Hamlin helped design the famous Bell X-1 in which Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.

Krafft A. Ehricke — a famous rocket propulsion engineer known for his contributions to, and his profound understanding of both the technology and philosophical meaning of space development.  He helped to develop Atlas and Centaur at General Dynamics, where he would serve as Vice President.  He led advanced studies at Rockwell International during the 1970s, which resulted in, “… a priceless legacy of studies, designs, writings and even paintings describing the colonization of Moon and the development of Earth-Moon space,” quoting his Celestis biography.

The High Frontier

Gerard K. O’Neill’s book The High Frontier

Beauford Franklin and James Kuhl — two of the original three co-founders of the Celestis Group of Melbourne, Florida.  Mr. Frankin was a mechanical engineer whose aerospace career included work at the  Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, United Technologies Corporation, and U.S. Boosters, Inc. at the Kennedy Space Center.  Mr. Kuhl was a World War II fighter pilot, and would serve as the commander of the 9898th Air Force Reserve Unit at Patrick Air Force Base.

Gerard K. O’Neill — a Princeton University experimental physicist and futurist who authored the award-winning book The High Frontier, which envisions a future where humans live in huge space colonies and where solar energy is harnessed in space for use on Earth. Dr. O’Neill founded the Space Studies Institute, served on the President’s National Commission on Space, and was an advisor to NASA and Congress.

Read more about The Founders Flight and the people on board the mission.

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Celestis in Pop Culture

Majel Roddenberry with Celestis, CEO Charles Chafer

Star Trek‘s Majel Roddenberry with Celestis CEO Charles Chafer

Being the only private company to have conducted memorial spaceflights — with over 1,000 participants flown so far — Celestis is widely known for its unique service for honoring departed loved ones.  As a result, Celestis has often been featured in popular culture.

Celestis gained worldwide notice with its very first memorial spaceflight — The Founders Flight, which was launched into space in April 1997.  Major media outlets around the world covered the story.  See, for example, the New York Times‘ front page article.  The New Yorker magazine published a cartoon about the launch.  Pop culture icon Timothy Leary, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and 22 others were on board this mission.  The flight was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records, and was even added to the popular board game Trivial Pursuit.

Star Trek star Patrick Stewart is planning a funeral fitting his sci-fi past – he wants to be launched into space. The 64-year-old actor has already decided how he wants to depart the earth, and he plans to use his links with the hit show to make sure his send off is a spectacular one. — ContactMusic.com, Jan. 17, 2005

Amelie movie poster

Poster for the 2001 French movie Amelie, which includes a reference to the Celestis space burial service

With the many Celestis missions flown since the Founders Flight, Celestis has gained high profile endorsements over the years.  Noted personalities from U.S. Senator John Glenn to actress Susan Sarandon have recommended Celestis to friends and constituents.  Actors including Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, and Tom Hanks have announced their own interest in a space funeral.  Star Trek actor James Doohan has flown on three Celestis missions, and will be on a future Celestis Voyager Service mission into deep space. Joining him on that mission will be Star Trek‘s Gene and Majel Roddenberry.  Movies, including the award winning French film Amelie, have made references to the Celestis Memorial Spaceflight service.  Popular music from country and western to electronica has been composed and released highlighting the Celestis service.  Our CEO, Charles Chafer, even appeared on the popular game show To Tell the Truth.

But you don’t have to be a celebrity to use the Celestis service.  The overwhelming majority of Celestis memorial spaceflight participants were everyday people who typically had an interest in space exploration, science fiction, astronomy … or just lived life to the fullest!  For more information about arranging a memorial spaceflight for yourself or a loved one, contact us today.

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