Outer space among unusual destinations for loved ones' remains

Corrections
Clarification, 6/22/12 - A June 11 article chronicled how Houston-based business Celestis Inc. took the cremated remains of Las Vegans into space aboard a SpaceX flight in May. Also taken into space were the remains of James S. DiGaetano Jr. and Sandra Lee Bower, both of Henderson, and Louis Kraff Jr. of Reno.

He's orbiting the Earth right now.

He's circling it every 90 minutes at 17,000 mph, 280 miles up. That's farther than the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas - only sky high.

Ever since he was a child, David Blinn Gorman's dream had been to travel in space. Now his dream has come true - in death, not life - thanks to his wife.

Las Vegas resident Jennifer Gorman paid $1,500 to a Houston-based company to make sure a gram of her husband's ashes made the voyage.

"It's such a blessing - knowing how he felt about space and how much he loved it," said Gorman, 59, who lost her husband on Aug. 16, 2005, after he had a heart attack at age 52.

"In fact, it was even written into our wedding vows - that I would be willing to sell everything to let him go into space if he ever got the chance."

Her husband, who worked in computer design in California's Silicon Valley, isn't alone up there.

He joins more than 300 others. A few of them are fellow Las Vegans, including William F. Stonaker, a butcher who died in 2004 at age 57, and Fred N. Ozawa, a physician who passed away in 2009 at 62.

They were all onboard SpaceX's recent Falcon 9 test launch, which sent a capsule to the International Space Station to pick up some old equipment and science supplies.

Known as the Dragon, the capsule splashed down off Mexico's Baja California coast a few days after launch.

But the cremated remains kept going as part of a second launch in space - a few hours before the Dragon docked with the space station.

Right now, the ashes are in lipstick-sized capsules inside a container inside a canister that was permanently attached to a spacecraft now orbiting the Earth every hour and a half.

In about a year, the space craft will burn up as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. And so will the ashes.

"Kind of like a shooting star," Charles Chafer, CEO of Celestis Inc., said in a telephone interview from Houston. "Is there any better way to memorialize yourself?"

The company charges between $1,000 and $12,000 per flight, depending on the amount of time spent in space and the weight of the ashes, he said.

Some ashes travel in space for as long as 100 years. Others sign on for a 20-year journey.

Some actually return to Earth and can be recollected by family members, but not as part of this recent launch, Chafer said.

It just all depends upon the mission that Celestis invests in. "We're basically purchasing space," he said.

UNDERWATER, AROUND THE NECK

It's also just one of a growing number of businesses that have found a niche in a market at a time when baby boomers are beginning to die - or at least come to grips with their mortality and start to make arrangements.

"The number of people who elect cremation is growing dramatically," said Chafer, who founded Celestis Inc. in 1995. "... It's no longer 'church, then funeral' kind of thing. They're looking to make a statement, to have a real celebration. And they have a number of choices. And the market is driven by what they decide."

To be sure, traveling in space isn't the only option.

Your ashes can be mixed into a reef off Florida's Atlantic coast. Friends and family can scuba dive on the reef and watch it grow over time, their loved ones ever present underwater.

If you're into art, your loved one's ashes can be mixed with ink, then drawn on you permanently in a tattoo.

If you have a penchant for jewelry, you can actually wear your loved one around your neck as a pendant or gemstone.

If you're a classic rock fan, you can get your ashes permanently rubbed into vinyl records - your way of honoring "Stairway to Heaven" for eternity.

If you're a fireworks aficionado or a gun nut, you can always be mixed with gun powder and leave this world with a big bang. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose love for guns just about rivaled his passion for political reporting, had his ashes blown out of a cannon at his ranch in Woody Creek, Colo.

But it's that proverbial final frontier, that place where very few have gone, that seems to have captured the hearts and minds of many, whether they grew up watching "Star Trek," consuming science fiction books or simply found themselves constantly gazing at the stars, hoping some day to go there.

CONNECTED TO SPACE

The three posthumous space travelers with Las Vegas ties were enamored with space, mesmerized by it.

Stonaker, although he sliced and diced meat for a living, earned a degree in astronomy from the University of Arizona in the 1960s. He spent time with a team of pioneers researching new types of observation points with various telescopes.

His early days were spent on mountain­tops in Arizona, Mexico and Chile, his wife, Carol, wrote in his biography provided by Celestis.

"I believe this was one of his most cherished experiences," she wrote. "In contrast, once this phase of his life was concluded, Bill discovered the one great frustration of his life - not being able to find work in the field he loved so much."

Ozawa also marveled at the stars when he wasn't busy being a devoted father and a loving husband, according to his biography.

"Dear Fred, our goodbyes are only temporary, for we shall see each other again someday," it reads. "Until that glorious day, we will look up and smile and say to you: 'It is time for a new journey to begin.' We will forever love you."

Jennifer Gorman takes great pleasure knowing that her husband, while he may be far, far away, is still with her every time she walks out the door on a starry night and looks up at the sky.

"It's comforting to know he's up there," said Gorman, a retired businesswoman who came to Las Vegas after her husband died. "It's where he always wanted to go, and now he's there."

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.