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Human Ashes Sprinkled Across the Heavens

Artist's Conception of Terra Satellite Orbiting Earth
A 21st Century Satellite Orbiting Earth

When NASA launched the probe Lunar Prospector from Earth to the Moon on January 6, 1998, it was the first time in 25 years the space agency had flown a research spacecraft to Earth's natural satellite.

After blast off on an Athena II rocket from Spaceport Florida's pad 46 – part of a new commercial launch complex at Cape Canaveral – Lunar Prospector cruised for 110 hours to the Moon where it entered a circular, polar orbit. It In its search for water ice, Lunar Prospector did not land on the surface. Instead, it traveled around the Moon – from pole to pole – 62 miles above the surface every 118 minutes for a year.

Before Lunar Prospector was sent to the Moon, NASA stowed aboard an ounce of the cremated remains of a man that space agency scientists called a "great founder" of planetary science.

The ashes were the remains of Eugene Shoemaker who was a co-discoverer of Shoemaker-Levy 9, a comet that crashed into Jupiter in 1995. That crash, captured by the lenses of the Hubble Space Telescope, established Shoemaker as "one of the great founders of planetary science," NASA said.

Ashes of 30 Launched to Orbit

A month later, the cremated remains of 30 human beings were placed inside tiny satellites and launched into orbit February 10, 1998, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Taurus rocket also ferried three larger satellites to orbit.

Tucked away at the top of the rocket's nosecone was a quarter-ounce lipstick-sized capsule of each person's ashes – including the mingled ashes of a couple and the remains of a 15-year-old Netherlands boy.

Celestis Inc. of Houston, Texas, prepared the tiny satellites. The flight cost $4,800 per person. Earlier, Celestis had orbited ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and 1960s cultural guru Timothy Leary. The ashes will remain in orbit above Earth for ten years or more before plunging into the atmosphere and burning.

The primary paylods carried by the Taurus rocket were two private communications satellites and a Navy satellite which will monitor ocean conditions.

Ashes of Star Trek's Scotty

The cremated remains of Star Trek actor James "Scotty" Doohan were to be beamed up to orbit December 6, 2005, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Commercial space flight operator Space Services Inc. will launch more than 120 tiny satellites – lipstick-size tubes filled with ashes of individuals. The ashes include those of an American astronaut and of astrogeologist Mareta West, who is said to have pointed out the site for the first landing on the moon.

Years ago, the ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry were launched along with 1960s cultural guru Timothy Leary.

Doohan died in July 2005 at 85. Years earlier, he had portrayed Starship Enterprises's chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott quick to take offense on the Star Trek television series.

Scotty's ashes will remain in orbit above Earth for 50-200 years before dropping into the atmosphere and burning. Meanwhile, Roddenberry's ashes, launched in 1997, returned to Earth in 2002.

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