What Families Are Saying

Below are words from family members of Celestis Memorial Spaceflight participants, discussing their loved ones or expressing their feelings about our service.  We will post more testimonials in the future.

Majel Roddenberry
Majel Roddenberry

“This may be your final frontier. It’s a symbolic gesture, but it’s a celebration, more than anything. You ask yourself ‘What did a person love the most?’ If there is a spirit hanging around, where would he be the happiest? I know where Gene’s would be the happiest.” – Majel Barrett Roddenberry, quoted in “For 24 Dearly Departed, a Rocket Trip Around the World,” by Frank Arthens.  Note that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a participant on board Celestis’ first memorial spaceflight, The Founders Flight.  Both Gene and Majel will fly on our next Voyager deep space mission.

James McEachern
James McEachern

“Not long before he passed away he did admit the only dream that did not come true was to make it into space. I told him that somehow and someday I would try to make his last wish and dream come true. Thankfully I discovered Celestis and with their help JD’s dream will come true.” — The son of James McEachern, quoted from his father’s biography.

Alfred Floyd Turner
Alfred Floyd Turner

“We were able to fulfill our brother’s wish. It was like our last gift to him… For the last 30 seconds of the countdown, I was shaking. We were just so excited we brought him to that moment. It was so worth it” – Crystal Warren, sister of Alfred Turner,  quoted in “Family comforted as ashes mingle with stars,” an article in The News-Leader (Springfield, Missouri).  Alfred Turner was a participant on board The Legacy Flight, an Earth Rise Service mission, and will be on board our upcoming New Frontier Flight, an Earth Orbit Service mission.

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Getting Closer to Our Next Lunar Mission

The Celestis Luna Service reaches out to Earth’s nearest neighbor for a uniquely compelling location to remember a special life.  Celestis has an agreement with Astrobotic Technology, Inc. to launch a payload containing human cremated remains to the surface of the Moon as soon as 2013. Astrobotic reached a major milestone in June by assembling its lunar lander at Carnegie Mellon University and shipping it to a shake testing facility in California.

Astrobotic Lunar Lander
The Astrobotic Lunar Lander

Earlier this year Astrobotic signed a contract with SpaceX to launch Astrobotic’s robotic payload to the Moon on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle.  Astrobotic’s expedition will search for water and deliver payloads – including Celestis’ – with the Astrobotic robot narrating its adventure while sending 3-D video to Earth.  Liftoff could occur as soon as December 2013.

The Astrobotic Team
Members of the Astrobotic team that assembled the lunar lander, posing by the lander before the lander was shipped to California for shake testing.

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon.   Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing.  The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars.  The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights.  The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications.

“The mission is the first of a serial campaign,” said Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic Technology and founder of the university’s Field Robotics Center. “Astrobotic’s missions will pursue new resources, deliver rich experiences, serve new customers and open new markets.   Spurred further by incentives, contracts, and the Google Lunar X PRIZE, this is a perfect storm for new exploration.”

Lunar Lander Assembly Video
Time lapse video that covers the second week of lander work, which includes both assembly and preparation for shipping.

“The moon has economic and scientific treasures that went undiscovered during the Apollo era, and our robot explorers will spearhead this new lunar frontier,” said David Gump, president of Astrobotic Technology.   “The initial mission will bank up to $24 million in Google’s Lunar X PRIZE, Florida’s $2 million launch bonus, and NASA’s $10 million landing contract while delivering 240 pounds of payload for space agencies and corporate marketers.”

In addition to Carnegie Mellon, where several prototypes have been built and tested, the mission is supported by industrial partners such as International Rectifier Corporation and corporate sponsors such as Caterpillar Inc. and ANSYS Inc.

Astrobotic Lander and Rover
Model of the Astrobotic Lander and Rover

About Astrobotic Technology

Astrobotic(TM) expeditions deliver payloads, scientific instruments and engineering experiments to the moon for space agencies, academic researchers and the media/marketing industries.  NASA awarded the company a $10 million contract in 2010 for access to the expedition’s engineering data on lunar landing technologies.  The company also has a NASA assignment to design a lunar mining robot to recover the frozen volatiles at the poles, which can be transformed into propellant to refuel spacecraft for their return to Earth.  Other expeditions will explore “skylight” holes and lunar caves as havens from temperature extremes, radiation exposure and micrometeorite bombardment.  Astrobotic also plans a robot to circle the moon, outrunning lunar sundown and avoiding the immobilizing cold of the two-week night.  More information is available at  www.astrobotic.net.

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Celestis Salutes the Space Shuttle Program

Most of the people who fly on board Celestis memorial spaceflights had an interest in space exploration, science fiction and/or astronomy. Indeed, many Celestis flight participants have worked in the space program, either at NASA or for its contractors. (More info…)  So as NASA’s space shuttle program comes to a close, Celestis honors the space agency, astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, contractors, elected representatives and taxpayers who made the shuttle program a reality.

Astronaut holding "For Sale" sign
During Discovery’s second flight, launched on Nov. 8, 1984, another “first” was achieved — the deployment of two communications satellites and the retrieval of two others through the use of the manned maneuvering units. Above, astronaut Dale Gardner holds up a “For Sale” sign after capturing the satellites. Image Credit: NASA

In a sense, the space shuttle era began with science fiction. Before the shuttle could fly in space, engineers had to demonstrate that the spacecraft could fly in Earth’s atmosphere like a glider and land on a runway. So in 1977 NASA flew a number of atmospheric test flights of a shuttle NASA had originally intended to name “Constitution.” However, fans of the Star Trek television series mounted a successful letter-writing campaign to the White House urging President Ford to name the shuttle “Enterprise.” The Enterprise was never launched into space, and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, located near Washington Dulles International Airport.

Star Trek actors by the Space Shuttle Enterprise
In 1976, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale, CA manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the 'Star Trek' television series. From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, and a Celestis flight participant); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Rodenberry (a Celestis flight participant); an unnamed NASA official; and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). Image Credit: NASA

Starting with its first launch into space on April 12, 1981 with the space shuttle Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. Who can forget the thrilling December 1993 Hubble Space Telescope service repair mission that repaired the telescope’s faulty optics, resulting in some of the most spectacular photos we have ever seen of the universe? Who can forget the flights of the Manned Manuevering Unit in the 1980s? On the other hand, who can forget the tragic losses of the Challenger in 1986, the Columbia in 2003 and, most importantly, the crews of those two missions?

Astronaut Bruce McCandless on a spacewalk using the manned maneuvering unit (MMU) on STS-41B, February 1984. Image Credit: NASA

Overall, though, the space shuttle program has had a successful launch rate. Like most spacecraft, though, the shuttle fleet experienced its share of launch delays, which result from technical or weather-related reasons. The Associated Press conducted a study in 2007 of shuttle launch performance and found that of the 118 shuttle missions that had flown by 2007, 47 were launched on time. Indeed, Celestis spacecraft often experience launch delays as well: This is par for the course in the aerospace world.

As we move forward into a new era of space exploration, marked by commercial launch services, nanosatellites, space tourism and other innovations, we honor the significant contribution of the space shuttle program to our future.

Space Shuttle

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Goddard Flight launch
Launch of The Goddard Flight from Spaceport America

What a wonderful day!  The UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket carried the Goddard Flight into space this morning.  Liftoff occurred at 7:21 am MDT (8:21 am EDT, 1:21 GMT)  – what a spectacular sight!  You can view video of the launch here.

The crowd of onlookers – including high school and college students and their instructors, VIPs, and family members of those on board the Goddard Flight – applauded, cheered, jumped for joy, hugged one another … and cried.  These memorial spaceflight launches are always emotionally-moving experiences.

On a separate note … people were really interested in our Goddard Flight patches and pins — we had a little table set up in the assembly area and sold out of everything!

As we depart New Mexico, we will never forget the excitement and meaning of today — especially for those with loved ones on board the spacecraft.  We were truly honor their lives and memories aboard the Goddard Flight.

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The Goddard Flight’s Namesake

Robert Goddard
Robert Goddard

The Goddard Flight, Celestis’ tenth memorial spaceflight, was named in honor of Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard, who is considered to be the father of modern rocket propulsion, and who conducted much of his pioneering research near Roswell, New Mexico. A physicist of great insight, Goddard also had a unique genius for invention.  Given Celestis’ innovative use of rocket technology to launch cremated remains into space from Spaceport America, it is only fitting that we paid tribute to this aerospace pioneer and longtime New Mexico resident.

Born October 5, 1882 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Goddard developed his interest in space and astronomy at an early age, inspired in part by H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic, War of the Worlds, and by his parents, who provided young Robert a telescope and otherwise encouraged him to pursue a scientific career.  Goddard studied at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University, earning his Ph.D. in 1911.  In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents. One was for a rocket using liquid fuel. The other was for a two or three stage rocket using solid fuel.  Note that The Goddard Flight carried the ashes of Earth Rise service participants into space on board a solid fuel rocket.

Goddard in group photo in NM
Standing in front of the rocket in the launch tower near Roswell, New Mexico on September 23, 1935, are (left to right): Albert Kisk, Goddard’s brother-in-law and machinist; Harry F. Guggenheim; Dr. Robert H. Goddard; Col. Charles A. Lindbergh and N.T. Ljungquist, machinist. Charles Lindbergh, an advocate for Goddard and his research, helped secure a grant from the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation in 1930. With that money Goddard and his wife moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where he could conduct research and launch rockets while avoiding the scrutiny and criticism of his colleagues and the press. Photo Credit: NASA

At his own expense, Goddard began to make systematic studies about propulsion provided by various types of gunpowder. His classic document was a study he wrote in 1916 requesting funds from the Smithsonian Institution so that he could continue his research. This was later published along with his subsequent research in a famous January 1920 report to the Smithsonian Institution entitled “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.”  In this treatise, Goddard detailed his search for methods of raising weather recording instruments higher than sounding balloons. In this search, he developed the mathematical theories of rocket propulsion.

Robert Goddard
Dr. Robert Goddard and his liquid oxygen-gasoline rocket in the frame from which it was fired on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, Mass.

Towards the end of his 1920 report, Goddard outlined the possibility of a rocket reaching the moon and exploding a load of flash powder there to mark its arrival.  The press picked up the story and severely criticized Goddard. For example, in its January 13, 1920 issue, The New York Times tore into Goddard, arguing that he, “… does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react…. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”  The widespread public ridicule culminated in his being nicknamed “The Moon Man.”

By 1926, Goddard had constructed and successfully launched the first rocket using liquid fuel. Indeed, the flight of Goddard’s rocket on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, Massachusetts was as significant to history as that of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.

Goddard’s greatest engineering contributions were made during his work in the 1920s and 1930s. He received a total of $10,000 from the Smithsonian by 1927, and through the personal efforts of famed American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, he subsequently received financial support from the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation, which financed his research in New Mexico.  Goddard spent a dozen years near Roswell, New Mexico with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation, further developing and testing his rocket designs.

While Goddard’s rocket work made little impression on American government officials of the 1920s and 1930s, German rocket scientists paid close attention: Goddard’s research largely anticipated in technical detail the later German V-2 missiles, including gyroscopic control, steering by means of vanes in the jet stream of the rocket motor, gimbal-steering, power-driven fuel pumps and other devices.  Indeed, Goddard inspected several captured V-2’s in 1945, confirming that the Germans had used his designs.  Goddard died later that same year from throat cancer.

Robert Goddard’s contributions to missilery and spaceflight would make a lengthy list.  Here are some of Dr. Goddard’s firsts:

  • Explored the practicality of using rocket propulsion to reach high altitudes and even the moon (1912)
  • Proved that a rocket will work in a vacuum, that it needs no air to push against
  • Developed and demonstrated the basic idea of the “bazooka” two days before the Armistice in 1918 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
  • Developed and launched a liquid fuel rocket (March 16, 1926, Auburn, Mass.)
  • Launched a scientific payload in a rocket flight (1929, Auburn, Mass.)
  • Used vanes in rocket motor blast for guidance (1932, New Mexico)
  • Developed a gyro control apparatus for rocket flight (1932, New Mexico)
  • Received U.S. patent in idea of multi-stage rocket (1914)
  • Developed pumps suitable for rocket fuels
  • Launched a rocket with a motor pivoted on gimbals under the influence of a gyro

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Goddard Crater (located on the Moon’s eastern limb) and The Goddard Flight are all named in honor of this hero of space history.

Visit our new blog at www.Celestis.com/blog/

Launch Pad and Mission Control Tours

Today we traveled to Spaceport America and toured the launch pad and mission control.

We left the Elephant Butte Inn around 8:45 am and arrived at mission control about 45 minutes later.  There we were greeted by Tracey Larson of UP Aerospace and Dr. Pat Hynes of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC), which is the primary sponsor of tomorrow’s launch.  Also present was Mr. Louis Gomez, who is one of the pioneers of Spaceport America.  Tracy delivered a presentation concerning the procedures mission controllers follow when they conduct a launch.   Pat discussed the NMSGC’s student launch program, and the importance of Celestis’ participation with the student launches each year.  Tracey, Pat and Louis then answered our questions during Q&A.

Celestis Goddard Flight family member at mission control
A family member of one of the participants on board our mission sitting at mission control today

After touring mission control we drove to the launch pad where we were met by UP Aerospace President Jerry Larson, Celestis CEO Charles Chafer, and UP Aerospace’s Bruce Lee.  These three gentlemen discussed the launch scheduled for tomorrow morning.   We learned that the nearby White Sands Missile Range tracks the SpaceLoft XL’s flight into space and return to Earth.  We saw where the Celestis payload is located on the SpaceLoft XL.

Celestis family member at the launch pad
The same Celestis family member posing by the SpaceLoft XL rocket during today's launch pad tour

We also learned some very interesting information about how UP Aerospace launches the SpaceLoft XL: Instead of using a launch tower like the space shuttle uses during liftoff, the SpaceLoft XL rocket launches from a ‘launch rail.’  In order to determine how to aim the launch rail, engineers have to take into account the various wind velocities through which the rocket will fly as it ascends through the atmosphere into space.  In addition to launching weather balloons, UP Aerospace uses a SODAR — a SOnic Detection And Ranging device — located near the launch pad.  The SODAR sends sound waves into the atmosphere to measure atmospheric turbulence.  Based on the wind velocities measured just prior to liftoff, UP Aerospace uses a computer to determine the optimal angle and elevation of the launch rail so as to launch the rocket on the best possible spaceflight trajectory.

Of course, we all had an opportunity to walk around the launch pad, go up to the rocket and actually touch it, and take photos.

After completing the launch pad tour we returned to the Elephant Butte Inn where we plan to get to bed early this evening as we have to leave quite early tomorrow morning for Spaceport America.  Launch is projected to occur as early as 7:00 am our time (9:00 am EDT, 1:00 pm GMT).

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We’re in New Mexico

We’ve arrived at the Elephant Butte Inn here in New Mexico. It’s a beautiful hotel, near Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park features the largest and most popular lake in New Mexico. The lake is really a reservoir that was created almost a century ago when a dam was built across the Rio Grande River. The reservoir is about 40 miles long, and has over 200 miles of shoreline. The Park is a popular tourist attraction known for its water sports and trophy size fish, including striper, bass and wall eye.

“Elephant Butte” is an interesting name. Although fossils of the stegomastodon (a primitive relative of today’s elephant) have been discovered near the reservoir, the area was not named for its former and formidable inhabitants – which included the famous Tyrannosaurs Rex dinosaur. Rather, the name “Elephant Butte” was derived from the eroded core of an ancient volcano, now an island in the reservoir, in the shape of an elephant.

Elephant Butte
Elephant Butte

We’ll be greeting our guests this evening at the Celestis registration table where we will issue tickets for the vans that will ferry all of us (including our guests) between the Elephant Butte Inn and Spaceport America.

Tomorrow morning we’ll travel to Spaceport America and take a tour of the launch pad, see the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle, and tour UP Aerospace’s mission control.

We’ll be getting to bed early Thursday evening as we have to board the vans again Friday morning at 4:15 am for the trip back to Spaceport America to view the launch.

Note: The photo above, and much of this text, comes from the Web site of the Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

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Student Payloads on Board the Launch Vehicle

The Goddard Flight, a Celestis Earth Rise service mission, is flying as a secondary payload on UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle that’s projected to liftoff Friday.  The primary payload is a set of 27 experiments of elementary, junior high, high school and college students from New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.  The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC) at New Mexico State University is sponsoring the launch of this primary payload.

The rocket will loft 27 student experiments into space from Spaceport America, culminating nearly a year of development and planning. “Working together with our partners at UP Aerospace and many other dedicated, talented professionals,” said NMSGC Director Dr. Pat Hynes, “we are making every effort to assure the success of this unique scientific opportunity for the students.”

The student launch program was created by the NMSGC to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs for area students. This program supports the integration of space science in the classroom by providing annual access to space for student experiments at the end of each academic year.

Experiments include 35 sensors such as carbon dioxide detectors, electromagnetic field, radiation, acceleration, temperature, pressure and electricity sensors.  For example, students at Desert Ridge Middle School, Albuquerque, New Mexico have an experiment on board that will measure the Earth’s magnetosphere (the region in space whose shape is determined by the Earth’s internal magnetic field) as the rocket travels from Earth to space and back.  Students at Picacho Middle School, Las Cruces, New Mexico will study the success of packing materials in launching fragile items to space.  And students at both Sierra Middle School and Zia Middle School in Las Cruces, New Mexico want to know how four common raw materials (nickel, brass, copper, and silver) used to build space-rated hardware and equipment behave thermodynamically from launch to landing.

Descriptions of all the student experiments are available online at LaunchNM.com/payloads.php

The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium is a member of the congressionally funded National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program that is administered by NASA and sponsored by New Mexico State University. The program promotes and inspires lifelong learning in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as it pertains to space-related activities. The consortium supports a wide range of projects and scholarship opportunities, including the Student Launch Program.

Read a newspaper column by NMSGC Director Dr. Pat Hynes about her motivation for making these annual education launches a reality.

Participants On Board The Goddard Flight

Celestis memorial spaceflights always have flight participants with interesting and moving life stories.  The Goddard Flight is no exception.

Leonard MajeskeLeonard Michael Majeske, 90, of South Glastonbury, Connecticut was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated with honors from De Lasalle High School. He received an Engineering Degree from the University of Detroit Professional and a Masters Degree from Catholic University. While in school he was Midwest Editor of Design News magazine. He served in the U.S. Air Force in World War II and was a lifetime member of American Legion Glastonbury. His first career was as an aerospace engineer. This included a position with NASA working for rocket pioneer Werner Von Braun. He earned several patents on tank, automobile and airplane components. After retiring from engineering he became an educator with the State of Connecticut.

Leonard, also known as Mike, was an accomplished musician proficient in piano, guitar and his favorite instrument, the accordion. He was an avid duplicate bridge player and a founder of the Glastonbury Duplicate Bridge club. He was a lifetime member of Mensa, a published limerick writer and inventor of the sport of tunnis. He played chess for almost 80 years, earned grandmaster points and won several local chess tournaments. He was the Official Town Crier in Glastonbury and also appeared in advertisements for ConnectiCare. He was a strong vocal advocate for social change.

Brenda SartorBrenda Jean Sartor came into this world blessed with unwavering determination and a desire to live life to the fullest and make every day count. God knew that these character traits would be exactly the tools she would need to survive trapped in a physical body compromised by the effects of Spinal Muscular Atrophy – a form of Muscular Dystrophy. Diagnosed at nine months old, the doctors gave Brenda only two years to live – but they couldn’t see the passion and drive inside her little heart that would enable her to live an extra three decades – accomplishing much in her short 36 years.

Brenda’s engaging personality and desire to help find a cure for her debilitating disease led the Muscular Dystrophy Association to select her as both the Idaho State Poster Child in 1981 and the Northeast Florida Poster Child in 1982 & 1983. Thousands were touched when she read her poem “A Little Girl’s Dreams” on TV during the MDA telethon.

But as much as she was devoted to helping find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy, Brenda’s driving passion was outer space. She followed the space flights, devoured books and movies about space and space travel, became a sci-fi junkie, and even loved to eat freeze dried ‘space ice cream.’ She was granted a wish from the Make A Wish Foundation, and naturally chose a trip to NASA! Her personalized behind-the-scenes tour complete with an encounter with an astronaut in a space suit was one of the highlights of her life.

From the time she understood what astronauts did, Brenda’s goal was to become one and travel into outer space. Until Sally Ride beat her to it, Brenda wanted to be the first female astronaut! Undaunted, her goal then morphed to becoming the first disabled person to go into space. She dreamed of being able to move about freely in space – without the restrictions of gravity and a diseased body.

Space shuttle liftoff
Space Shuttle Atlantis takes flight on the STS-27 mission, Dec. 2, 1988.

At the age of 11, during one of Brenda’s many hospital stays, the Challenger explosion occurred. The television was blanketed with coverage, and Brenda, being bound to her hospital room, was a captive audience to the round-the-clock coverage. She was mesmerized by every detail of the launch and its mishap. The future astronaut was so impacted by the tragedy that she switched gears and fixed her sights on becoming an engineer and working for NASA to help ensure that such a catastrophe would never occur again. Brenda never wavered from this vision. She graduated from Middleburg High School with honors, and proceeded to earn a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida.

Although her physical limitations kept her from becoming a NASA employee, her desire to become an astronaut never wavered. Her dying wish was to send part of her remains into space. Her thought was that if she couldn’t travel into space as a ‘whole’ person, she still would be able to fulfill her dream of orbiting the earth by sending her ashes after her passing.

We invite you to read the biographies of all Goddard Flight participants.

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Alan Shepard and Celestis — A Pioneering Legacy

Alan Shepard stamp
The US Postal Service has just issued a stamp commemorating Alan Shepard's May 5, 1961 spaceflight.

50 years ago today Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space. As it happens, one of Shepard’s fellow astronauts played critical roles in both that historic mission and Celestis’ corporate history.

On the morning of May 5, 1961 – just weeks after Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human to fly in space – Shepard sat in his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule that was perched atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. After several hours of repeated launch delays, Shepard famously told mission controllers, “Fix your little problems and light this candle!” At 9:34 a.m. EST the Mercury-Redstone rocket blasted off its launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Suborbital trajectory
Celestis Earth Rise spaceflight trajectory: Click to enlarge

Shepard’s flight lasted 15 minutes. Freedom 7 ascended to an altitude of 116 statute miles (187 kilometers), and flew at a maximum speed of 5,134 miles per hour (8,262 kilometers per hour). After flying in space for just a few minutes, Freedom 7 reentered the atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean where both the spacecraft and Shepard were recovered by the US Navy. Shepard’s spacecraft flew into space and returned to Earth, without orbiting Earth — just like today’s Celestis Earth Rise Service missions.

Fellow Mercury 7 Astronaut Deke Slayton served as a “CAPCOM” (“capsule communicator”) for Shepard’s 1961 mission. As CAPCOM, Slayton was the person designated by NASA to communicate with Shepard via radio, the idea being that an astronaut on the ground was the best person to handle communications with an astronaut in a space capsule. After leaving NASA in the 1970s Slayton would found Space Services Inc. of America (SSIA), from which Celestis traces its corporate history. SSIA became the first private enterprise to launch a rocket into outer space, and Celestis became the first (and only) company to launch cremated remains into the final frontier.

Mercury 7 astronauts
NASA introduced the Project Mercury Astronauts to the world on April 9, 1959, only six months after the agency was established. Known as the Mercury 7 or Original 7, they are: front row, left to right, Walter H. "Wally" Schirra, Jr., Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper.

Actually, there were two CAPCOM’s for Shepard’s 1961 mission. Until two minutes prior to liftoff, Mercury 7 Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper served as the CAPCOM. Then, Slayton took over CAPCOM duties for the duration of the mission, including liftoff and the flight itself. Cooper, who passed away in 2004, was a participant on board Celestis’ Legacy Flight in 2007, and will be a participant on Celestis’ New Frontier Flight, an Earth-orbiting mission.  (See our Launch Manifest for New Frontier launch information.)

Earth Rise launch
See a video about the Celestis Earth Rise Service

Like Shepard’s historic spaceflight, Celestis’ Earth Rise Service missions fly into space and return to Earth without orbiting Earth.  The family of each Earth Rise mission participant receives the flown capsule or module containing the cremated remains. Instead of splashing down in an ocean, Celestis Earth Rise missions land at White Sands Missile Range, not far from the launch site at Spaceport America, New Mexico. The Legacy Flight, carrying the cremated remains of Cooper, Star Trek actor James Doohan (“Scotty”) and over 200 others, was an Earth Rise service mission. Celestis launches Earth Rise missions at least once a year.

Shepard on the Moon
See a NASA video about the life of Alan Shepard

There were a number of interesting contrasts between Gagarin’s and Shepard’s 1961 spaceflights. “While Gagarin had only been a passenger in his vehicle,” quoting from an official NASA history of the space program, “Shepard was able to maneuver the Freedom 7 spacecraft himself. While the Soviet mission was veiled in secrecy, Shepard’s flight, return from space, splashdown at sea and recovery by helicopter to a waiting aircraft carrier were seen on live television by millions around the world.”  And, of course, while Shepard did not orbit Earth, Gagarin did.

After his Mercury flight, Americans honored Shepard with parades in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. In a ceremony at the White House that same year, President John F. Kennedy awarded Shepard with the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.  Speaking of Yuri Gagarin’s monumental achievement of becoming the first human being to fly in space just 23 days prior to Shepard’s mission, Shepard said, “That little race between Gagarin and me was really, really close.”

Shepard would later command the Apollo 14 mission to the Moon where he hit his famous golf shot on the lunar surface. He retired from NASA in 1974.

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