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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Space, the funeral frontier

I wrote a blog entitled Space...the final frontier (that we'll never get to?) on December 6, 2011. It was all about the seeming-impossibility of humankind ever traveling to a distant, earth-like planet, despite our best efforts to find one (or more). The catch is that the planets which seem to be good candidates are so far away that we'd all be dead before we could even get close.

                                         It sure is pretty out there...

This blog - which could be construed as a follow up to my December 6th missive - may offset the notion that we shouldn't bother looking for distant, habitable worlds. Why? Because, it seems, there are a fair number of people who will pay good money to send a few of their ashes into space. As this BBC article highlights, there are people dying just to get into orbit - never mind traveling to strange, new worlds.

There is no doubt that space is an amazing place. Having recently moved to northern AL, my wife and I have already taken the time to lay in the back yard at night and gaze up into the dusky heavens while pointing out the few constellations whose names we remember. For most of us, space is something we can see but never touch. Despite decades of enjoying Star Trek, Star Wars, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and countless other space-based offerings - including the Apollo missions - I know that I'll never get there. At least on this side of heaven.

Apparently this inability to actually get into space bugs some folks enough to shell out good money so that a tiny amount of ashen remains can be carried into space in varying degrees. I say varying degrees because there are several programs run by companies like Celestis; these programs range from shooting a tiny canister of your loved one's remains out of the atmosphere and giving the capsule or module to you after it returns to earth; to the more Trek-ish, the Voyager program is where you wave goodbye to that same small capsule/module as it heads off into deep space.

           These are the voyages of...some dead guy

As romantic as that sounds, I have my glass of cold water handy. Simply getting a capsule containing a single gram of ashes into space (defined as a zero-gravity environment) will cost you $995. Want a larger representative sample? To blast a module containing seven grams of ashes into space will cost you double that.

There are orbital and lunar options as well. But the creme de la creme is Celestis' Voyager program. Launching a single gram of ashen remains into deep space exploration will run $12,500; prefer the module option in which seven grams of ash can boldly go where no (dead) man has gone before? That'll be $25,000 please.

Twenty-five large - to send seven grams of ash hurtling into space?

I don't mean to be insensitive; I can definitely see the attraction. But especially after this 60 Minutes episode where it was discovered there is a fair amount of 3-card Monte going on with earthly remains in cemeteries all over the country, I'm not sure I'm up for spending the equivalent of a nicely equipped Toyota Camry on sending seven grams of my ashes into space. I mean, how do I know they won't just make a big to-do about putting my ashes in the capsule or module, give my loved one a nice plaque and go out back and dump me in the butt-can?

I know this may rain on some folks' parades but we're talking about someone who has already passed on to the happy hunting grounds, gone to be with their maker, risen into heaven or descended into Dante's Hot & Spicy. We're talking about spending a lot of money on shooting ashes into space.

I respect everyone's beliefs; I respect the fact that it may give someone closure or at least comfort to think of their loved one hurtling through the dark, airless vacuum of space. They can spend $25000 and believe that dear, sweet Harold (or Ethel) is in a better place, helping mankind chart the unknown reaches of space.

My belief is that when you die you are, well, dead. Whatever is left of your human form is a lifeless shell bereft of anything you may have been during your life. Burning that shell and shooting a portion of it off into space may sound romantic but what about the important part?

What about the soul of the person who has passed? Where is that?

In my opinion, it would be better to spend your money on taking care of your soul - and the souls of others - than worrying about these fleshy modules we inhabit here on earth.

What do I believe? God has already got a place in the heavens for me when I die. When it's my time, I won't need Celestis or anyone else to blast me into the heavens. I'll already be there.

Sorry about that old capsule I left behind...

What do you think?


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