Maybe it’s the increasing concern about the planet’s resources or the fact that technology has allowed us to get a lot more creative than we used to be, but there are a number of ways to handle a burial than the traditional cemetery or urn these days. From pressing ashes into a record to planting them with a tree, the possibilities seem to be endless. When Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek died in 1991, a plain ol’ urn simply wouldn’t do him justice. So his ashes were launched into space.
On April 21, 1997, some of Roddenberry’s ashes were brought to the Canary Islands and loaded aboard the Pegasus-XL. This was the first public memorial spaceflight and many people — celebrities and mere space enthusiasts — followed suit. His ashes were then launched out of the rocket, reaching Earth’s orbit and re-entering the atmosphere almost five years later in May 2002.
The Pegasus launch wasn’t Roddenberry’s remains’ first space rodeo, though. Before this launch, astronaut James Weatherbee brought a small portion of Roddenberry’s ashes with him aboard the space shuttle Columbia.
Since then, another portion of Roddenberry’s ashes have been launched into deep space, along with those of his wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry. This was the first mission to make it all the way to deep space. Roddenberry isn’t the only Star Trek alum who’s floated around the ether. James Doohan’s ashes have also been sent up.
They reached space and returned to Earth on April 28, 2007, and some more were sent up the following year, but they failed to reach orbit. A third batch was launched in 2012 aboard the Falcon 9 and it stayed in orbit for about a month before returning back to the planet’s atmosphere.
The space burial company that launched Roddenberry and Doohan’s remains into orbit, Celestis, has a number of packages that allow people to send their loved one’s ashes into the final frontier. It’s limited to a couple of grams of ashes, which can be sent into space, into Earth’s orbit, to the Moon, or into deep space.
Other notable people who have had their remains put in space include astronaut Gordon Cooper, rocket scientists Beauford Franklin and Kraft Ehricke, explorer Ralph White, physicist Gerard O’Neill, psychologist Timothy Leary, and astronomer Eugene Merle Shoemaker.