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
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 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.
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 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.
Celestis 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.
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 Flight 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
In a Washington D.C. news conference on April 9, 1959, NASA announced the names of the first group of astronauts — the Mercury 7. Two of those space pioneers would figure into the history of Celestis and its parent company, Space Services Holdings, Inc.
Under the direction of former Mercury 7 astronaut Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, Space Services, Inc. of America (SSIA) made history as the first private enterprise to launch a rocket into outer space: Conestoga 1. On Sept. 9, 1982, SSIA successfully launched its Conestoga I rocket from Matagorda Island, Texas. The launch marked the world’s first privately funded mission to space, and would lead to the creation of a billion dollar market for private aerospace firms.
Prior to liftoff, the SSIA crew underwent the process of clearing all legal and regulatory hurdles for the launch, laying the foundation for future commercial space launches. The effort was primarily funded by David Hannah, Jr., Toddie Lee Wynne, and other donors confident in their ability to succeed. Following the launch, dozens of aspiring firms entered the space business in an effort to get a portion of the substantial profits to be had, thus establishing the commercial space industry.
Today’s Space Services Holdings, Inc. (SSHI) a corporate descendant of Hannah’s original company, has conducted over a dozen commercial space missions, has two spacecraft on orbit, and is partnered with major aerospace companies and large, public Internet firms interested in tapping into new commercial space markets. SSHI continues to strive toward bolstering the commercial space industry to ensure that, 30 years down the road, it experiences the same significant growth that followed the Conestoga launch over 30 years ago.
L. Gordon “Gordo” Cooper became a leading celebrity of the new Space Age when he was selected as one of the Mercury 7 astronauts in April 1959. In May 1963 he piloted the Faith 7 spacecraft on the Mercury 9 mission – the last of the Project Mercury missions. In August 1965 he commanded the Gemini 5 mission, where he and astronaut Charles Conrad set a new space endurance record at the time, orbiting Earth for approximately eight days. The mission demonstrated that astronauts could survive trips to the Moon and back. This flight also made Gordo the first human to fly on two missions on Earth orbit. Additionally, Gordo served as a backup astronaut for the Gemini 12 and Apollo 10 missions. All told, Gordo logged 222 hours in space. Gordo left NASA and retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1970.
After his passing in 2004, his family decided to honor Gordo’s life with the Celestis memorial spaceflight service. Gordo was a participant on board Celestis’ 2007 Legacy Flight, 2008 Explorers Flight and 2012 New Frontier Flight that orbited Earth.
Celestis has conducted the overwhelming majority of memorial spaceflights — and is the only private company to have done so. Here’s a list of launch vehicles that have been used to carry cremated remains into space:
Space Shuttle — A portion of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s cremated remains flew on NASA’s space shuttle Columbia (STS-52) in 1992 and were returned to Earth.
Pegasus — In April 1997, 24 cremated remains samples were launched into Earth orbit on an air-launched Pegasus rocket on board Celestis’ first memorial spaceflight, the “Founders Flight.” The Celestis memorial satellite orbited Earth until it re-entered the atmosphere in May 2002 northeast of Australia. Gene Roddenberry was on board this mission, and will — along with his wife, Majel — fly into deep space on board a Celestis Voyager Service mission.
Athena II — Celestis provided its first Luna Service mission by helping friends of noted planetary geologist Dr. Eugene Shoemaker include a symbolic portion of Dr. Shoemaker’s cremated remains on the NASA Lunar Prospector mission launched January 6, 1998 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Launch occurred on a three-stage Athena II rocket. On July 31, 1999 the spacecraft impacted the lunar surface inside a permanently shadowed crater near the south lunar pole, creating a permanent monument to Dr. Shoemaker.
Taurus — On February 10, 1998 30 cremated remains samples flew as a secondary payload launched into Earth orbit on a Taurus rocket. This mission — Celestis’ “Ad Astra Flight” — is still on orbit and has an estimated orbital lifetime of 240 years. The memorial satellite, along with Celestis’ 1999 “Millennial Flight,” can be tracked online.
SpaceShipOne — On September 29, 2004 SpaceShipOne carried the cremated remains of the mother of SpaceShipOne’s designer, Burt Rutan, on a suborbital flight that successfully flew in space and returned to Earth. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is designed, in part, on the basis of SpaceShipOne.
Atlas V — A sample of the cremated remains of astronomer Clyde Tombaugh were part of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft launched January 19, 2006 by an Atlas V rocket. This NASA mission will fly the discoverer of Pluto past that distant dwarf planet later this year.
SpaceLoft XL — The first Celestis Earth Rise Service memorial spaceflight flew on April 28, 2007. The Earth Rise Service flies the cremated remains into space and returns them to Earth. After the mission each family receives the flown flight capsule, still containing the cremated remains. These annual missions occur from Spaceport America, New Mexico on an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle. The cremated remains samples of over 200 people were on board 2007’s “Legacy Flight,” including Mercury 7 astronaut L. Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan (“Scotty”). Both Cooper and Doohan later flew on Celestis’ Earth Orbit mission, the “New Frontier Flight,” and will fly on a future Voyager Service mission.
Delta IV Heavy — On December 5, 2014 NASA launched a cremated remains sample on the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 on a Delta IV Heavy (ULA) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The person honored by this special arrangement was a Lockheed Martin aeronautical engineer who worked on the Orion project for over a decade.
From October 4-10 people all around the world will come together to celebrate World Space Week, the largest space event here on Earth. The theme this year honors Yuri Gagarin who became the first man in space on April 12, 1961. Only 3 countries and one company have successfully achieve manned spaceflight though several others are developing the technology.
The first World Space Week was declared in 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly “[t]o celebrate each year at the international level the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition.” The guiding forces behind the event are the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA). Other major affiliates include Turksat, SpaceX, the Secure World Foundation and SpaceIsle.com.
World Space Week is an event designed for everyone, from government agencies to individuals, everyone is invited to host an event celebrating some of the amazing contributions spaceflight has brought humans. The goals of these events are to inspire a new generation to continue pushing foward, to bring the many space oriented programs and companies to the spotlight and to create an international community of people.
Higlights from 2010 included a Water Rocket firing competition for school students in Karachi, Pakistan and a regional rocket launch launch in Alabama called Rocktober skies. On the calendar for this year is Tea with the Stars in Brazil and an Energy Systems Technology & Education Center (ESTEC) open house in the Netherlands. There are also plenty of film showings, seminars, classes and viewings on the calendar.
For ideas and materials to help you get started and spread the word visit WorldSpaceWeek.org. You don’t have to do something huge to participate. You can attend a talk, host a showing of your favorite space film, or donate to a space-related cause. They even provide free downloads of this year’s and all previous years’ poster to help you get the word out. Teachers take note, there’s a special guide just for you to plan some space-related lessons.
We encourage you to participate in this exciting week, no matter where you might live.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.