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!

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.

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. Continue reading “Remembering a Loved One with a Trip to the Moon”

Track Celestis Spacecraft Orbiting Earth

Celestis’ Earth Orbit service affordably launches a symbolic portion of cremated remains into space. Your loved one will venture into the final frontier as part of a real space mission, riding alongside a commercial or scientific satellite. The Celestis spacecraft is placed in Earth orbit where it remains until it reenters the atmosphere, harmlessly vaporizing like a shooting star in final tribute.  You can even track the satellite as it revolves around our planet!

Satellite track
Display from n2yo.com tracking the Celestis Millennial Flight as it flies over the United States

We have launched four memorial spaceflight missions into Earth orbit, two of which you can still track on our website:

Polar Orbit
Illustration of a satellite in polar orbit.  The satellite’s orbit is marked in red.  The satellite can be seen by people who are in the white band on the surface of Earth.  As the satellite orbits over the north and south poles, the Earth rotates from west to east (compare the left image with the right image).  As this happens, the white band — the area on Earth from which people can see the satellite flying overhead in the night sky — moves westward.  So over time, the satellite orbits over every point on Earth.  Image Credit: NOAA

The two Celestis spacecraft currently orbiting Earth — the Ad Astra and Millennial missions — do so in what’s called a “polar orbit,” meaning their orbits take them over the north and south poles.  Since the Earth rotates eastward beneath them, the two satellites fly over each point on Earth.  (See illustration at right.)  As of this writing, the Ad Astra memorial spacecraft takes approximately 101 minutes to complete each of its orbits, while the Millennial memorial spacecraft takes approximately 97 minutes to do so.

The length of time the spacecraft remains in orbit depends on a variety of factors: orbital altitude, the shape of the spacecraft, etc. While some missions may orbit the Earth for less than a day before reentry, others may orbit for centuries. Specific launch information is provided to you after the launch occurs and the spacecraft completes at least one successful orbit.

You can track our Earth 0rbiting missions online by visiting our website via the links above.  You can also track our satellites using the Star Walk app, which is, “an award-winning education app that allows users to easily locate and identify 20,000+ objects in the night sky. The 360-degree, touch control star map displays constellations, stars, planets, satellites, and galaxies currently overhead from anywhere on Earth.”  Star Walk’s display shows the position of each Celestis spacecraft against the constellations of the sky (e.g., Taurus, Aries, Cancer).

Satellite tracking software uses satellite flight data collected by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which updates its satellite tracking data periodically.  NORAD tracks all man-made objects in space.

In addition to tracking our Earth orbit missions, you should also be able to track our inaugural Voyager Service mission, the Sunjammer solar sail, which will travel into deep space.  Visit our online Launch Manifest for information about all of our exciting upcoming missions!

New Frontier Flight Reenters Atmosphere

Meteor enters Earth's atmosphere
Photo taken from the International Space Station of a meteor - a 'shooting star' - entering Earth's atmosphere Aug. 13, 2011 as the space station flew over China

The New Frontier Flight, a Celestis Earth Orbit Service mission that was launched May 22, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, has reentered Earth’s atmosphere, blazing like a shooting star in final tribute to the 320 people on board this historic memorial spaceflight.  Reentry occurred during the satellite’s 576th orbit of Earth at 10:22 pm CDT June 26 (3:22 am June 27).

The New Frontier Flight was dedicated to the spirit of the 320 mission participants and to people everywhere who share the passion for exploration and discovery. The spacecraft carried a symbolic portion of the cremated remains of each flight participant on Earth orbit. Among the people aboard this mission were Mercury Seven NASA astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, Star Trek actor James Doohan (who played “Mr. Scott”) and hundreds of people from various walks of life in the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, India, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, France, South Africa and Russia.

Reentry Map
The New Frontier Flight reentered Earth's atmosphere at 10:22 pm CDT June 26 (3:22 am GMT June 27) at an estimated position of 20°N, 111°E, over the South China Sea: See the red "X" in the map above.

Family Feedback

In light of the reentry, several Celestis families have written us, expressing their gratitude for our service.  “Thank you for keeping our family informed,” writes James Harmon, the father of New Frontier Flight participant Dane Kauffman Harmon.  “Our experience with Celestis has been first class from beginning to end.”  Jerry Norman, a funeral director for one of our clients, writes, “Thanks for the update!   Great service!”  And Todd Johnson, son of New Frontier Flight participant Nancy L. Johnson, writes, “Congratulations on a spectacular launch and successful mission!…  I love sharing our Celestis story with friends and strangers alike.  I love what Celestis offers. It’s not just about a launch.  It’s about a celebration – about dreams – about memories that will last my lifetime.  Thank you and everyone at Celestis for your hard work and perseverance to bring celebrations, dreams and memories to the families and friends of the launch participants. All of you make a difference in the lives of others.  I wish you the very best of success!”

Visit The New Frontier Flight webpage to see video of the launch.

Name That Mission!

CCelestis Spaceport America Launch Pad Tour
Families tour the launch pad at Spaceport America the day prior to a Celestis Earth Rise launch.

We invite you to suggest a name for our next mission, which is scheduled for launch on June 21, 2013.  The winner of the contest will receive a mission patch that we have flown in space, together with a certificate of authenticity!

This launch will occur from Spaceport America, New Mexico, the site of each of our previous Earth Rise Service missions. We will fly cremated remains into space and return them to Earth: After the mission, the flight capsule or module that carried a loved one into space and back again is returned to the family, with the ashes still sealed inside. We will once again fly on board an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle.

If you’re interested in the mission-naming contest, it might help you to consider the names of our previous memorial spaceflights.  We called our first mission “The Founders Flight.”  Our December 1999 mission was called “The Millennial Flight.”  And our last Earth Rise mission — “The Goddard Flight” — was named after the father of American space exploration, Dr. Robert Goddard, who performed much of his pioneering aerospace work in New Mexico.

Consider the venue — Spaceport America.  It’s a new launch facility that will serve as the headquarters of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism company.  It’s also located near the White Sands Missile Range, where so much space history has been made.

Be creative!  If you have a suggestion, please contact usThe contest deadline is July 4, 2012.

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UPDATE (July 12): Aleta Duvall has won the contest!  The name of our next Earth Rise mission is The Centennial Flight, named in honor of the 100th anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood.  For her winning entry, Aleta will receive a Centennial Flight mission patch that will be flown on the mission.  Congratulations Aleta!  (And thanks to everyone who suggested names for the mission!)

What Families Are Saying

Celestis memorial spaceflights provide meaningful ways for families and friends to honor the memory of a loved one.  Whether they attend our launch-related activities in person or watch via webcast, families find the Celestis experience to be emotionally moving and fulfilling.

Below are just some of the comments made by family members of those on board The New Frontier Flight, launched into Earth orbit on May 22, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Those who traveled to Florida to view the launch in person also had the opportunity to view the rocket on its launch pad from the vantage point of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center,  and participate in our memorial service for those on board the flight.

Celestis New Frontier Flight Memorial Service
Attendees at the Celestis New Frontier Flight Memorial Service. Photos of each person on board the flight, together with their names and personal flight messages, were displayed on the screen at left.

Dear Christiana,

Now we have come to an end.  Mark’s ashes are orbiting and 5 years have passed since we started this journey together.

I remember first talking with you, getting information about the process of sending ashes into space. You were so understanding and compassionate as I vented and cried and told the story of how I came to be doing this.  You grieved along with me.

Astronaut Jon McBride speaks at the memorial service
Astronaut Jon McBride speaking at the memorial service

There are no words to express fully how much I appreciated you during those early days.  You became a trusted friend and helped me navigate through some tough decisions. You may not know that you did these things, but during our conversations I gained some measure of strength and found that I could get through all manner of difficult days.

Christiana, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  For extending your friendship to me, for keeping me in the Celestis loop of information, for caring enough to search and actually find me after I had re-married and changed my name and address. I can’t believe you did that!

You are an amazing asset to Celestis and a friend to all the family members you come in contact with every day.  I wish you Love & Blessings always

Johanna Wallace Mitchell  (Joey)

P.S.  I still think we should meet someday.

~~~

Family members speak at the memorial service
Family members share their thoughts at the memorial service

Bravo to you all this is the very best of news that  my loved one has now accomplished the dream to go into space.  For me it came at the anniversary of when my wife left this world six years ago almost to the day (May 21, 2006), making it extremely special.  This is a next step for all to help move forward in space travel for mankind!  Will be waiting for more news about the orbit and be able to track their orbit and go out in the night and look up and say there they go overhead.

Thanks again.

John Seaton

~~~

This has been soooooooo much fun! I’m so glad my father was able to be a part of this historic mission.

Gina Whitt

~~~

Families in procession
At the end of the memorial service, families and friends walked to a nearby river where they laid flowers in memory of their loved ones.

I cannot express how thrilled my family is about the launch.  It is truly a wonderful day.  We watched from our homes but we celebrated with the entire Celestis and New Frontier family.  Thank you, a million times over, for this opportunity.  This was the only idea about which Dad showed any enthusiasm as we talked with him about his memorial service – and oh, the enthusiasm he had for this.

Katharine Stewart

~~~

New Frontier Flight liftoff
Families viewed the nighttime launch in person or by webcast. Image Credit: NASA

We, at Celestis, thank all of the families and friends who have written us!  We will never forget joining many of you in the pre-dawn darkness of May 22 to watch the spectacular launch from Jetty Park, located just 10.3 miles from the launch pad. As the rocket lifted its precious cargo of New Frontier Flight participants into the night sky, the spirits of all of us at Jetty Park lifted as well. The brilliant light of the rocket’s powerful engines resembled the light of a very bright star rising ever so gracefully into the stars above. The crowd reacted with a joyful mix of applause, cheers, handshakes, hugs, and tears: Their loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight had come true. Those of you who joined us virtually, via the launch webcast, were also with us in spirit.

Click here to read more about the New Frontier Flight, view video of the launch, read about the people on board, and track the satellite as it orbits Earth.

Click here to view a touching television interview with one of The New Frontier Flight families.

Track Our Satellites with Starwalk

Celestis has had three successful orbital flights. Two of these flights were launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California and are still in Earth orbit today. Even better, they can both be tracked from your iPhone.

An application called Starwalk, from Vito Technology, makes this possible. It’s a visual pleasure of an application bringing you not just rich graphics but explanations of what you’re seeing. Simply download the application to your iPhone or iPad and point your device at the sky. The app will show you just what’s up there and it’s smart enough to know not only where you are but which way you are facing.

You can also search for various objects, like the satellites that contain our orbital funerals.

Celestis Earth Orbit liftoff
Launch of The Ad Astra Flight, Feb. 10, 1998, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Our first successful orbital mission was The Founders Flight, which launched in 1997 and re-entered Earth’s atmosphere May 20, 2002 northeast of Australia.   Our second orbital mission, The Ad Astra Flight, was launched in 1998 and is Celestis25160 in the Starwalk app. The third flight was The Millennial Flight in 1999 and can be found under Celestis26034. Maybe you’ll be able to step outside one night and see if you can’t see the satellite passing overhead either with the naked or or by pointing the Starwalk app in that direction.

The next orbital launch, The New Frontier Flight, is also going to carry ashes into orbit. The number for tracking that flight will be made available as soon as possible after the launch.

For those who use Androids, there’s the Google Sky Map application, though tracking satellites is not yet a feature.

You can also track our Earth-orbiting spacecraft via our website.