The semi-Infinite Trek for Scotty

By Phil Plait | April 4, 2007 1:33 pm

James Doohan, who played Engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek, died in July 2005. As a fitting memorial, his ashes will be launched into space, possibly on April 28. The SpaceLoft XL rocket is supplied by UP Aerospace, and the company that set this up is Celestis, which acts as a middleman providing a variety of space services.

I’m of mixed opinions about this. I suppose it’s a nice thought, and if it brings spaceflight that much closer to people, then I’m for it.

However, there is something amiss here. Celestis (on its front page) claims the ashes will go into orbit:

Space Services makes it possible to honor the dream and memory of your departed loved one by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains into Earth orbit, onto the lunar surface or into deep space.

But UP Aerospace (also on its front page) says its flights are suborbital:

Space-flight profiles up to 140 miles / 225 km with a wide range of micro-gravity options.

It looks to me like the ashes will go up, be up for a few minutes, then come back down. Besides the issue of (mild) misleading advertising, this may be something of a more serious legal matter, as human remains have some baggage associated with them. The launch will be in New Mexico, so I wonder what legal ramifications there are? I have called Celestis and left a message. If/when I hear back I’ll post again. has more as well.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Piece of mind, Time Sink

Comments (32)

  1. Also on their frontpage “Many people name stars in memory of loved ones. The stars last forever” so do you get a refund once nuclear reactions in the star stop, or perhaps win a prize if it goes supernova?

  2. Wayne

    Despite the fact that Celestis doesn’t mention sub-orbital flights on its main page, the coverage I have seen about this has all been pretty up-front about it not being an orbital flight. I think there will be other “momentos” that make the ride as well, so that you can say that they’ve been “in space”. Pretty clever marketing if you ask me.

  3. Drbuzz0

    phill, if you look at then you’ll see they have different options. Apparently the sub-orbital ballistic thing is the economy package, which kinda makes sense, given the cost of sending things into actual orbit. Just the same. Not that exciting to me. First, you have to be dead, which is the big kill-fun on it, but also it’s just a small portion of your ashes. (not like they chuck your body out the side of a spacecraft.. that’d actually be kinda cool). so it sounds like it’s just an up and back. Oh well… they’ll have some of his ashes left if they decide down the road he’d like a trip to the moon or alpha centauri

  4. Your average person doesn’t even know what “in orbit” means. I remember watching CBS news when SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize, and the commentator kept saying that they were going in to orbit. It made me cringe. Note to the hairdos reading the news: you don’t just need altitude; you’ve got to have velocity, a lot of it.

    At least they’ll also be carrying something useful as well as ashes:

  5. Christian Burnham

    Now this IS a waste of money. If you’re that rich then spend the money on a scholarship for a student studying rocket engineering or something.

  6. kingnor

    are they releaseing the ashes free to burn up in the atmosphere or releasing them in a capsule?

    This is an odd practice imho. I beleive our bodies should be dragged out and taken care of by the wild animals :-) Is that crazy? Something about being in a wooden box underground just doesn’t sit well with me, and being incinerated seems just WRONG. I’d rather be a part of the living ecosystem.

    that or a MUMMY!

  7. George

    [Hmmm, I thought I did a post. ??]

    To reach Lunar L1 from a 200km Earth orbit, supposedly, requires about 3150 m/sec delta v. Ashes are about 2.6 kg (1.8 kg for women). [Their price should be much less, right? :)] Thus, an impulse of ~ 7900 N-sec is needed to get over the hump an on the Moon, I think.

    I found a model rocket engine, the J210H, that produces an impulse of 850 N-s. Perhaps 10 of these and some duct tape might do the trick, afterall.

  8. Chris

    Heck no – you need a LOT more total impulse than that. At liftoff, the rocket is lifting itself too, not just the ashes. Some quick calculations put the minimum rocket size to put about 2kg of ashes into orbit at a few thousand kilograms liftoff mass, give or take. That J motor you’re talking about will normally only take rockets a few thousand feet up, and the current altitude record for even the N class of motor (10240-20480 Ns) is only up in the 40 thousand foot range – nowhere near space, much less orbit.

  9. HenrikOlsen

    Personally I’d like to be either under the roots of an ash tree, or fertilizing a field of flowers feeding bees so my friends could drink mead made from the honey and remember me fondly.

  10. I remember meeting Doohan when he signed my Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise .
    We chatted a bit about Black Holes before the next person in line gave me a nasty look.

    The person I just froze to meet was Robert A. Heinlen. Signed my PB copy of “Stranger” .. Yes, after a blood donation. (I think I had a 5 gallon pin… haven’t been around to the donation for a long time – shame on me)


  11. Salad Is Slaughter Says: “”Your average person doesn’t even know what ‘in orbit’ means.”

    Or how it stays there. On “Medium” tonight the story was about an employee of an aerospace company who was fired after his flawed programming on the telemetry systems of a communications satellite caused it to “fall from orbit.”

    – Jack

  12. Joel Kilgore

    First off, I have little knowledge of what orbit really means and have absolutely no concept of rocket thrust. However, my opinion is realitive…sort of. It is extremely sad to think that whether James Doohan’s ashes in space will mean anything to him at all. For spiritul folks, the concept is that he is there already and beyond, hence space is only a final ‘lifetime’ frontier. For non-spiritual folks, James has no sort of consciousness left and all is for naught. Apparently all is for the Doohan family, or (not having even read anything about his desires) his final wishes. Either way, this blog article has me curious to read up on ‘orbital’ vs ‘suborbital’. And yes, I can see where the ‘Medium’ TV program lacks reality. Kinda hard to ‘fall’ without gravity.

  13. Michael L

    Agreed buddy. I noticed the same things too. Leave the bodies where they lie, don’t go flinging them about. Hey, why not shoot ’em into the sun? Now THAT would be an end!

  14. Luke

    This is why I’m donating my body to science. No restrictions: medical tests, student training, ballistics, craft projects, freshmen pranks, whatever. If there’s anything left to cremate, they haven’t done their job properly.

  15. DennyMo

    I’d prefer having my ashes put into a series of fireworks shells, then let all my friends and family enjoy my last show. A friend once stated that “We waste a lot of prime real estate on dead people.” I sorta agree with the sentiment. But flying over Chicago last week, I realized that in any major metropolitan area, just about the only green spaces you see are cemeteries, so maybe they serve a useful purpose after all.

  16. BH1602

    Also, if this is the service I’ve read about earlier, they don’t send up ALL of the ashes of the deceased. What I remember seeing was a pretty small capsule-shaped container (maybe 4 inches tall and an inch in diameter) that goes up with lots of others.

    On the other ongoing topic, once I’m done with my body, I’m not worried about what happens to it. Right now I’m thinking I’ll donate it to science (maybe the body farm near Knoxville TN), but if pranksters, cannibals or necrophiliacs somehow get dibs on it, I will be long past caring.

  17. JeffS

    They do have multiple packages, both orbital and sub-orbital. An orbital flight is scheduled for later this year.

    It looks like they’ve put some of the “customers” on both flights. Especially the bigger name ones like Doohan and Gordon Cooper.

  18. George

    Chris, what was interesting to me about this was the possibility of the spreading of ashes onto the Moon. Launching into an Earth orbit is not something new. The cost factor to launch ashen remains of 2.6kg is much less than 1% of the normal price to launch a human who requires life support systems to be hauled up with them.

    It would still be expensive, no doubt. Getting the J rockets up to orbit alone would be the real cost as they weigh much more than the remains.

    I was surprised that it may not be that much harder to get ashes to the moon, though I could stll be wrong, both in principle and in math.

  19. Gary Ansorge

    I just want my DNA code recorded onto a cd and sent to the stars. Then someday, some researcher who wants to know how those primative humans managed to survive can regenrate my bio-form and get a real eyeful,,,

    ,,,or maybe not,,,

    Gary 7

  20. American Voyager

    I was not aware that ashes could be sent into orbit, but only of sub-orbital launches. There’s only been one burial in space that has truly intrigued me and that was for Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto’s discoverer. He died about ten years ago, but when they launched New Horizon’s to that world last year, some of Clyde’s ashes were aboard. Now THAT’S cool! Not only will part of his body fly close past the world he discovered, but afterward, it will travel forever among the stars. Forget about Earth orbit. Bury me in deep space like Clyde. His widow attended the launch. I’m sure it was an interesting moment for her!

  21. Irishman

    Phil, Celestis also offers star naming packages, so take them for what you will.

    However, as noted, there are numerous packages offered. They seem to be attaching capsules to various commercial and scientific satellites/probes. So they may be doing this one as suborbital using UP Aerospace, but it appears they contract out to any launch service that provides the necessary conditions. Here is what Celestis says about the Earth orbit package:

    Our Earth Orbit service affordably launches a symbolic portion of cremated remains to space, aboard the Celestis spacecraft. Your loved one will venture into space 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 blazing shooting star in final tribute.

    The length of time the spacecraft remains in orbit depends on a variety of factors: orbital altitude, coordinates, etc. Previous Celestis missions are estimated to remain in Earth orbit between 10 years to 240 years. Specific launch information is provided to you after the launch occurs and the spacecraft completes one successful orbit.

    There doesn’t appear to be any false advertising to me.

  22. CosmicFrontiers

    Maybe a cosmic wormhole will appear right at the point
    where the rocket is reaching its peak in space, then it will
    get grabbed into another part of the galaxy where aliens
    with superior technology will reconstitute Scotty’s ashes,
    read his mind, and believe that his experiences on the
    starship Enterprise were real and rebuild the whole ship
    for him to travel among the stars with.

  23. Don A Bailey

    Lighten UP!!!!

    So what if Jimmy will only be in space for a few minutes! The idea behind this is so that “Scotty” can actually be in space.

    Is it legal? Who cares!

    If we make a big stink about this and someone says “This should be stopped” it will come to a screeching halt.

    That will stop others from having this wonderful option when they die. I think this is a very fitting end for some people. Chuck Yeager never truly made it into space , what a fitting end for him. Then there are people like Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.

    Give it a break! Don’t make a big deal out of this!

  24. BMurray

    Can’t say I care what happens to human remains provided it’s not a health hazard for anyone. In this case it is absolutely, literally, “the thought that counts” because absolutely nothing else about it does.

  25. John Krehbiel

    Joel Kilgore said “It’s kinda hard to fall without gravity.”

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that if there were “no gravity” in orbit, orbits would be straight. (Newton’s first law) Isn’t it gravity that keeps things in orbit?

  26. BMurray

    Yeah, the “lack” that keeps you in orbit is the lack of drag not the lack of gravity. You fall continuously but maintaining your forward velocity, vector adjusted for gravity. A little calculus later and you have an ellipse.

  27. Chris

    “Chris, what was interesting to me about this was the possibility of the spreading of ashes onto the Moon. Launching into an Earth orbit is not something new. The cost factor to launch ashen remains of 2.6kg is much less than 1% of the normal price to launch a human who requires life support systems to be hauled up with them.

    It would still be expensive, no doubt. Getting the J rockets up to orbit alone would be the real cost as they weigh much more than the remains.

    I was surprised that it may not be that much harder to get ashes to the moon, though I could stll be wrong, both in principle and in math.”

    I still doubt that that particular motor could get you even from earth orbit to the moon. You still have to boost the speed from about 7-8km/s (orbital) to near 11km/s (escape velocity) to reach the moon. A J motor simply doesn’t have the oomph to get something 3-4 km/s of delta v.

  28. David Cabernel

    I would hope all these remains were in a suborbital or fast decaying orbit. There is no good in having more spacejunk flying around for years up there.

    Personally I think the Klingons had it right (Scotty should have known this) “Dispose of the body as you would any other garbage. It is just an empty shell”

  29. Troy

    They wanted to go to full orbit but sahry suhr, Ah don’t hav enough powrrr.
    I like the Tombaugh funeral as well pretty cool. Of course my name (one of thousands) is on New Horizons which is much better.

  30. Art

    Paying to have a few grams of ash put into orbit or carried on a sounding rocket on a sub-orb shot is a goofy but respectable way to donate to civillian rocket development. Anyone see this that way?

    To the chaps that don’t understand much about orbital mechanics…just a word. In orbit, you are STILL under the influence of gravity. You see, you are still falling quite fast, but you are going so fast at an angle to the ground, that you are perpetually MISSING THE GROUND, i.e. falling past the curve of the earth. Not quite fast enough, and you go low enough so that the atmosphere creates a tiny bit of drag…that slows you more, and eventually you just get lower and get more drag etc…then either re-entry or burnup. Suborbitals don’t have all that speed they need to build downrange to fall around the earth. THey usually hit an altitude and then pretty much come straight down. They will experience a few g’s of decelleration as they start hitting thick atmosphere, but they won’t develop the kind of speeds that an orbital flight has when it hits the atmosphere.


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