We Have Liftoff!

Pioneer Flight liftoff
A spectator photographs the picture-perfect launch of the Pioneer Flight this morning

What a wonderful day!  The UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket carried the Pioneer Flight into space this morning.  Liftoff occurred at 6:41 am MDT (8:41 am EDT, 5:41 am PDT, 12:41 GMT), shortly after sunrise – 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 Pioneer Flight, applauded, cheered, jumped for joy, hugged one another … and cried.  Family members in particular were deeply moved, knowing that their loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight have now been fulfilled.

After launch, a number of dignitaries addressed the crowd in a huge tent erected for the occasion.  Celestis family members and Celestis CEO Charles Chafer were interviewed.  Vendors sold breakfast and drinks to the hundreds of people gathered for this historic event.

Eventually, we boarded our vans for the return trip to the Elephant Butte Inn.  A number of us slept on the way back: We had boarded the vans at 3:00 am for the trip to Spaceport America.  Upon our arrival at the Elephant Butte Inn, family members again thanked Celestis staff for a successful – and truly meaningful – way of memorializing their loved ones.

We were truly honored to have their loved ones aboard the Pioneer Flight.


Launch Pad Tour and Pre-Launch Briefing

Our guests really enjoyed the launch pad tour this morning.

We boarded our vans at the Elephant Butte Inn around 7:30 am, and arrived at Spaceport America around 9:00. The roads at Spaceport America are much improved from our launch here a year ago. Last year we rode over bumpy, unpaved, gravel roads, creating a minor dust storm in our wake! Since then, Spaceport America has paved the roads, making for a much smoother ride through the New Mexico desert.

Launch Pad Tour
Pioneer Flight family members on the launch pad tour viewing the rocket on the launch rail. Note that the Celestis logo appears to the left of the "A" in "Lockheed Martin."

We began by touring Mission Control, which is housed in a trailer about a mile from the launch pad. We were greeted by Tracey Larson of UP Aerospace, who gave us an informative presentation on the procedures mission controllers follow when they conduct a launch. Our guests had a number of questions, which UP Aerospace’s Bruce Lee answered.

Then, we boarded the vans again and drove to the launch pad where we were met by UP Aerospace President Jerry Larson. He, and Celestis CEO Charles Chafer, discussed the launch scheduled for tomorrow morning, and took more questions from family members and other VIPs in attendance. Then, we all had an opportunity to walk around the launch pad and take photos.

We returned to the Elephant Butte Inn around 11:00 am and rested. Then, at 4:00 pm, we conducted our Pre-Launch briefing, led by Celestis CEO Charles Chafer. Family members present spoke of their loved ones on the Pioneer Flight.

We held the Pre-Launch Briefing in a banquet room at the Elephant Butte Inn. Perhaps Mr. Chafer’s most important piece of advice was to get to bed early as we have to board the vans tomorrow morning at 3:00 am! The launch is projected to occur at 6:00 am, and we have to leave early so as to be in place in plenty of time for the launch.

Another Interesting Payload

The Pioneer Flight is not only a memorial spaceflight mission.  As we wrote on this blog April 30, we are also flying part of a robot built by high school students as part of our ongoing support of education initiatives.  In addition, we’re flying a payload of International Space Business Development, Ltd. of Taiwan.  This company’s payload, called the “Micro-element Space Experiment,” consists of one gram of “Nano-Calcium,” which will be used as an ingredient for health products in Asia.

International Space Business Development, Ltd.

International Space Business Development offers a number of services to its clients:

  • Commercial Space Transportation
  • Commercial Rocket Launch
  • Space Micro-Dust R&D
  • Universal Energy R&D
  • Space Information Communication
  • Space Energy Product Distribution and

The company also has a strong global-orientation.  While valuing the many benefits of humanity’s technological and economic progress over the millennia, International Space Business Development also understands the environmental challenges that technological and economic progress poses to the Earth’s environment and natural resources.

International Space Business Development believes that each human being and company should take on the responsibility of living life – and doing business – in an environmentally-sustainable manner.  Because the company cares about the Earth and the people who inhabit it, International Space Business Development supports the development of space and related products and technologies: Such development, the company believes, can help replace the energy and resources used here on Earth.  With all of our help, we can preserve the beauty of the Earth for future generations.

Celestis shares much the same philosophy about space development and its role in Earth’s future: We welcome International Space Business Development on board The Pioneer Flight!

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 board the vans at 7:15 and take the Spaceport America tour. Tomorrow afternoon we will hold the pre-launch briefing for our guests.

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


Celestis salutes funeral homes in New Mexico and Arizona

Demand for Memorial Spaceflight services has increased steadily since their introduction in 1994. People all over the US and the world have selected our services for their loved ones and for themselves.

Celestis has a global network of distributors – from China to Germany, from Canada to Australia. For the Pioneer Flight, we particularly welcome three funeral service providers in New Mexico and Arizona.

The Adair Funeral Homes – with offices in Tucson, Oro Valley, and Nogales, Arizona – were founded in 1956 by Arthur J. and Martha J. Adair. The company’s first location in Tucson was considered by most people at the time to be too far out of the city to be able to “make a go” of it. However due to the extremely outgoing and caring personality of Mr. and Mrs. Adair, and their rigid standards of service to every family, the funeral home grew at a rapid rate and currently approximately 1,000 families are served every year from this main location.

Even with the four chapels operating now, the entire operation is entirely maintained and owned by the Adair family and truly remains a “family owned and operated” business, and continues to strive to maintain the original values and principles of Arthur and Martha Adair.

The Getz Funeral Home of Las Cruces, New Mexico is home owned and operated and has been serving families of Las Cruces and southern New Mexico for decades. The Getz family has served the Las Cruces area since 1965 when Terry W. Getz started working for Dennis-Nelson Funeral Home. He later purchased the firm and the name was changed to Getz Funeral Home. He has three sons that have joined the firm: Steven W. Getz, CFSP who is a licensed Funeral Service Practitioner and Bryan P. Getz and Chad R. Getz who are licensed Interns. The company takes pride in conducting each service with a quiet dignity essential to your comfort and well being, regardless of your financial circumstances. The staff at Getz Funeral Home speak both English and Spanish.

Daniels Family Funeral Service is comprised of many funeral homes throughout the state of New Mexico — a total of fourteen funeral homes in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Farmington, Aztec, Kirtland, Gallup and Tse Bonito, and four beautiful cemeteries and three crematories in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Farmington. The company serves these communities, and a wide geographic area of the state.

Kevin R. Daniels, the owner of the company, has been in the funeral and cemetery business for over thirty years in many parts of the United States. With his years of experience, he returned to New Mexico because of his love for the state and its culture. From 1978 to 1982, Kevin served as a police officer with the New Mexico State Police, in Espanola and Farmington. He has served as Commissioner with the Department of Public Safety, and is still involved with the New Mexico State Police.

Daniels Family Funeral Service takes great pride in the community service that it provides, and understands the importance of giving all it can, when it can.

Celestis welcomes these fine funeral service providers to our growing network of distributors, and looks forward to seeing them at Spaceport America.


Payloads on Board

2009 launch video
Click to view video of the 2009 student launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico

Celestis will fly as a secondary payload on board the SpaceLoft® XL. The launch vehicle’s primary payload will be a number of student experiments from New Mexico universities, community colleges, and high schools, as well as part of a robot built by students in Texas.

The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC) at New Mexico State University is the primary payload sponsor. Quoting from the NMSGC Web site, NMSGC, “developed the program that currently works with one high school, 5 community college, and 2 universities in New Mexico to build electronic experiments. The purpose of the program is to develop New Mexico’s workforce by providing students access to space annually from Spaceport America.”

The New Mexico payloads include:

  • An “Inertial Measurement Unit” from New Mexico State University. The device is designed to record the SpaceLoft® XL’s trajectory. If successful, this device could be used in future SpaceLoft® XL flights.
  • Miniature electrical connectors from the University of New Mexico. This experiment will test the reliability of electrical connectors to be used in future missions that will be sponsored by the University of New Mexico, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and COSMIAC, which is a congressionally supported space electronics center established at the University of New Mexico.
  • RocketSat, a set of New Mexico high school payloads including a pressure sensor, accelerometers, temperature sensor, and Geiger counter.
Discobots video
Click for video about Lamar High's award-winning robotics program, "The DiscoBots" (Image Credit: NASA)

In addition, Celestis is flying part of an award-winning robot designed and built by students at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas.

“We are pleased to be working with the primary sponsor of the mission, the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, by providing matching funds that assist students to launch their experiments into space,” said Charles Chafer, CEO of Celestis. “We’re also helping science and technology students in our own community by launching part of an award-winning robot students at Houston’s Lamar High School have built. Including the robot part – called an ‘encoder’ – in the spacecraft is our way of further encouraging these outstanding young people to become the pioneers of the final frontier.”


The Launch Vehicle

Celestis families touring the SpaceLoft XL launch pad at Spaceport America

The Pioneer Flight will fly aboard a SpaceLoft® XL launch vehicle, manufactured and flown by UP Aerospace, Inc. of Highlands Ranch, Colorado. This will be Celestis’ third launch aboard a SpaceLoft® XL.

Quoting from UP Aerospace’s Web site, “The SpaceLoft® XL is UP Aerospace’s workhorse rocket — ideal for significant-size payloads and multiple, simultaneous-customer operations. It is a single-stage unguided sub-orbital launch vehicle designed to provide highly reliable, low-cost access to space. The vehicle’s mil-spec, solid rocket motor design is space flightproven, backed by years of intensive ground qualification testing. The system offers numerous advantages including minimal on-pad effort and simplified pre-launch and launch operations.”

The rocket is 20.0 feet (6.1 meters) tall, has a maximum diameter of 10.4 inches (26.4 cm), and a maximum lift-off weight (including payload) of 780 pounds (354 kg) in its standard mission configuration.  It can transport up to 110 pounds (50 kg) of payloads to an altitude of 72 miles (116 km), but can fly to higher altitudes with lower-mass payloads.

SpaceLoft XL trajectory -- Click to enlarge

The SpaceLoft® XL flies along a sub-orbital trajectory, meaning the spacecraft flies into space and returns to Earth, without orbiting Earth – similar to NASA’s early Mercury manned spaceflights in the 1960s. This “Earth Rise Service” mission will launch symbolic portions of cremated remains (contained in flight capsules and modules) into space and return them to Earth via parachute recovery. Total flight time is approximately 15 minutes. Once recovered the Celestis capsules and modules will be returned to family members and loved ones, providing them with a flown keepsake.

SpaceLoft XL launch video - Click to view

Liftoff occurs from Spaceport America, New Mexico, a launch facility owned by the State of New Mexico, and located about 45 miles (72 km) north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Prior to liftoff, measurements are taken of upper atmospheric winds. These measurements are fed into a computer that calculates the angle and elevation at which the spacecraft’s launch rail should be oriented so as to ensure a successful flight. After reentering the Earth’s atmosphere the spacecraft returns to Earth by parachute, landing at White Sands Missile Range, which is located near Spaceport America. Technicians at White Sands Missile Range track the spacecraft throughout the flight.


Pioneer Flight Participants

Welcome to the Celestis blog, where we’ll keep you informed of the latest news about Celestis memorial spaceflight services.

Over the next week we will post articles about our upcoming Earth Rise Service mission, The Pioneer Flight, which is projected to launch May 4, 2010 from Spaceport America, New Mexico.  19 participants will be on board.  As usual, we have an interesting mix of people, including film artists, engineers, pilots, a teacher, a martial artist … all of whom had an interest in space, astronomy, science fiction or exploration in general.  We’ll mention just a few Pioneer Flight participants here:

Ralph White

Ralph White enjoyed a distinguished professional career as an award-winning cinematographer, video cameraman and editor, with over 30 years of production experience and hundreds of motion picture and television credits to his name. In 1985, he documented the expedition that found the wreck of the RMS Titanic, and in 1987 and 2000, he co-directed the salvage operation and photography during the recovery of over 5,000 artifacts from Titanic‘s debris field. He was the submersible cameraman for the 1991 IMAX feature film Titanica, and in 1995-96, he was the expedition leader and second unit cameraman for James Cameron’s Academy Award winning feature film Titanic. Ralph made 35 dives to the 12,000 foot deep wreck of the Titanic, and qualified as a copilot on the French Nautile and Russian Mir submersibles. He was operations supervisor of the Medusa ROV for James Cameron’s 3D IMAX film Ghosts Of The Abyss and Technologies Coordinator for James Cameron’s live broadcast from the deck of the ship for the Discovery Channel’s Last Mysteries of Titanic. Ralph was also the deep sea imaging and guest wreck expert for the History Channel’s Titanic’s Last Moments.

John Simms

The world of film is also represented by John ‘Roger’ Simms, a professional photographer with a passion for his craft and knowing when and where to be to get the front page photo.  With a camera in hand, he would explore the world he lived in and soar the skies above to get the perfect, often award-winning, picture.  He was at his best when he looked through the lens of his camera intent on showcasing his subject – everything from space shuttles or a family of Southern bald eagles, to a grandmother holding hands with her grandchild on the beach.

James McEachern
Charles Lindbergh

Flying was a passion for James McEachern, who was chief flight test engineer on many first flights on planes built by Consolidated, Convair and General Dynamics, including the first flight of the B36 and B58.  Some of his original flights still hold world records for type of aircraft for speed, duration, altitude, etc.  Mr. McEachern flew with some of aviation’s finest pilots, such as Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Howard Hughes. He also had the opportunity to work with Jimmy Stewart and June Allison on the filming of Strategic Air Command.   Many of his contributions to aviation have been well documented over the years in books and on television. He is often seen on the Discovery and History Channels.

We invite you to read the many interesting stories of our flight participants.