Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: I discover I'm not such a space shot

[Freethinker Sermonette is a regular Sunday feature here.]

When you don't exist any more as a functioning mechanism, worrying about what happens to your parts is not something to fret much about. And indeed I don't much care.

Well, maybe I care a little bit. Truth be told, there are some things I don't want, something I realized only when I read about a company that will take 1 gram of my ashes (I would like to be burned, by the way) and fly this 1/28-th of an ounce of combustion products of my former self to the moon:

Leaving Earth to touch the cosmos is an experience few have ever known, but many have often dreamed of. 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. Missions into space that return the cremated remains to Earth are also available.


Celestis announces our agreement with Odyssey Moon Limited and Astrobotic Technology, Inc. to launch payloads containing human cremated remains to the surface of the Moon as soon as 2010.

Read our press release about this exciting venture. (Marketing material, Celestis, Inc.)

Exciting indeed. But not cheap. You have to arrive ready for flight, meaning cremation is extra. A gram of you alone is $10,000, but for $30,000 you can get 14 grams of yourself and a (former) companion shot up together. Everyone knows it's better getting your ashes hauled with someone you love.

While this will be your last trip, you won't be the first to make one like it:

In 1998, Celestis, at the request of NASA, provided a Luna Flight Capsule to the family and friends of the late legendary astronomer and planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker. The Celestis Flight Capsule, containing a symbolic portion of Shoemaker's cremated remains, was attached to NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft and launched on a one-year mission orbiting the moon.

On July 31, 1999, at the completion of Lunar Prospector's mission, the spacecraft was intentionally crashed into the moon's south pole, making Shoemaker the first human to be laid to rest on another celestial body. NASA called the memorial "a special honor for a special human being."

Since 1997, Celestis has been sending human remains into Earth orbit. The company conducted six memorial spaceflights for people from 14 nations, including "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and "Star Trek" actor James Doohan ("Scotty"). The next Celestis mission, set for June 2008, will send the remains of 205 participants to Earth orbit aboard a Falcon 1 rocket. (Leonard David,

Each to his own. I don't like the idea. I prefer to think my atoms will comingle with terrestrial matter. I told Mrs. R. to burn me and dump my ashes down the toilet (this is true, I have actually told her this), but alas, Mrs. R. says she has no intention of carrying out my last wish, and I don't care enough to make a Big Deal out of it. Things like that are for the living.

Besides, there will be no "me" to argue with her by then any more than there was a "me" in 1642 or 1066 or 1903. Maybe my atoms will find a nice home in a beetle, a rock or just be blowing in the wind. That's enough of an answer for me.

More like this

By Dr. Cynthia Phillips Planetary geologist at the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute The final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis has spawned a whole series of perspective pieces on the history, state, and future of space exploration. Some, like the YouTube…
As NASA's Space Shuttle program winds down -- Endeavour's final mission is slated for later this year, then that's it -- let us take a moment and remember the Shuttles. Sure, they had a tendency to explode into balls of fire. Sure, they were expensive, risky, and besieged by problems. But now is…
--The key scientist who helped NASA plan and identify the Moon landing location for Apollo 11 --Currently is a leading expert in the study of deserts and how to find and sustain water in such environments in the Arab world Two years before America's historic Apollo 11 moon landing mission was…
The recent launch of the Curiosity Mars rover has quietly broken the record for oldest human-made object in space, and instantly pulled numismatics, the study of coinage, into the Space Age. Prior to the launch, the oldest human-made object in space was the Vanguard 1 satellite, which was launched…

I would think that dumping that much ashes down a toilet might result in some plumping problems...if not just a big mess. You should probably see if you can get your ashes dumped in the backyard or in the pot of a ficus or something. Or how about natural burial? Protect some land and give your relatives some spot to stand over. Makes everyone happy.

So what is a "natural burial"? In my home town, one has to be drained, pumped full of chemicals before being placed in (1) a coffin and then in (2) a "collapse proof vault" so that no one strolling over the grave will fall in after the coffin decays. I accepted these terms when I buried my mother because she had expressed a horror of cremation and the rest of the family would have been shocked. I'd prefer that my own remains be returned as efficiently as possible to Nature which provided all the constituents and processes that I borrowed during my lifetime.

By stillwaggon (not verified) on 10 May 2009 #permalink

I would like my body to be used for organ donations and/or medical studies (then whatever is left cremated or whatever is the cheapest means of disposal). When I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to donate my body to "science" though, he replied, "Science won't want your body." Smart-aleck.

@Stillwaggon - You might want to check. While what you describe is the common practice (they even try to insist on embalming those who are to be cremated), in most places it isn't the law, but something the funeral industry insists upon (and gets paid for)."Green" burials are now the rage in the industry. Refrigeration instead of embalming, followed by implanting in biodegradable materials.Me, wrap me in muslin and put an acorn on my chest. I'll come back as an oak tree.

"I told Mrs. R. to burn me "

There will be a new logic that you need to overcome before the treatment of ash. Who will bury whom? This will not be decided by you except that the fool will think so.

Victor Frankle, the founder of logo-therapy who was a survivor of Holocaust, once depicted a true story of offering counseling for a Rabbi who was a widow and found no meaning of his life since his wife had passed away. Since the Rabbi tradition of forbidding suicide, the surviving of the physical body indeed was very painful to the Rabbi.

After several sessions of counseling, Victor knew that The Rabbi had loved his wife so much. So, he asked the Rabbi, âSuppose that you died first, what would have happened to your wife?" The Rabbi answered, "She would be very painful like what I experience now?" Victor then consoled the Rabbi, "Now you bear the pain instead of your wife is bearing the pain, and is that what you have shown your love to her?" The Rabbi brightened the eye and later he could live with meaning.

This story is a bit side tracked of the topic. But before everybody turning into ash, there are some logics that we need to prepare.

1. When we were deriving from as a baby, we became to do eating and toileting by ourselves-showing that we have learned to control. Nevertheless, before we have turned into ash, alas, we are not just relinquishing our control, in fact we have lost our total control-including the toileting. Neither the way nor the time of our dying process is under our control.

2. There are many beautiful stories that a person has experienced before the preparation of accepting the death. After all, life is given. Who is granting the unconditional love for human being? Indeed, we are spiritual beings who come to experience the human matters. :- ) Two sets of logics. Both are important; paradoxical.

Once I told my then teenage sons I wanted to be creamated and my ashes put under a tomatoe plant. They said "aw Mom how about a watermelon"

I have since learned that human ashes need to be dispersed if used for fertilizer as they are very heavy on calcium. But calcium stops blossom end rot in tomatoes so I still think tomatoes is the thing for me (besides I never have successfully grown watermelons)

But actually, as a gardener and a lover of dirt I would like to be buried naked in soil, no coffin - probably can't be done, even in my state but it is still the image that I like best. But I won't know what is done after I am dead so it hardly matters. So the biggest concern is that NO ONE spends any more money than necessary in disposing of my carcass.

You know, I'm rather fond of my body. It works well and feels good and isn't too hard to look at. And my mind... I am partial to it, too. I do so hate to part with either. And yet, sooner or later the parting will come. I can only hope whatever is done with my remains is honorable and respectful and brings peace to those left behind. And my energy, that which has made me me, disperses like dandelion seeds scattered by the breeze.

First a beetle, then a rock for certain. And then, perhaps we won't find our constituent parts in the gravitational well of the moon but we will find them in space, all of us. Once the earth is engulfed in the atmosphere of our red giant sun in a few billion years, that is. What grander possibilities can a rocket trip provide?

I'd like to be dropped (perhaps parachuted with a biodegradable parachute) somewhere out in the Australian desert, the middle of nowhere, and have the sun bleach my bones.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 10 May 2009 #permalink

Mrs Magpie and I are letting any university who wants body parts to cut up take whatever is left after the organ donation people have had a go at us.

Depends what kills me, I guess, but I've got no problem going into the pickled-people bank for surgery practice.

I used to think I wanted to be cremated, until I really considered our current carbon crisis.

I have sequestered all of this nice carbon in this body. Why would I want to be cremated and put out it all back into the atmosphere? I'm hoping that I live long enough to figure out a way to rot slowly after my death. I was, frankly, jealous of those folks that were on the plane that went down in the Everglades, delivering the passengers as alligator food. Moving up the food chain (getting eaten by larger carnivores) is more unsettling for your survivors, and going down the food chain (getting eaten by bugs and worms and microorganisms) is a bureaucratic problem.

K - Actually that might be legal. We had to do a study once related to burials and cremations, etc. (also known in the industry as "final disposition of the body") and found that it was perfectly legal in our state to bury someone in your own backyard. Go figure...

Buried naked and shallow enough for the soil critters and plants sounds best, but I don't think it's allowed.

Somehow I'd rather be eaten by worms and bacteria than coyotes. Go figure.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 11 May 2009 #permalink

Take me out out on the backroads, deep into a boreal forest and roll me into a ditch. I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't lay down on the surface like all the other critters on the planet, and provide for those still walking or squirming. Er, um...aside from the obvious water quality issues.

Besides, I don't want to be up there posthumously punching holes in the space shuttle, along with all the other junk zooming around in orbit.

Your atoms came from space - they were created in the heart of a star which went supernova, long before the earth and our sun were ever created. Your atoms may very well end up in outer space again someday, regardless of where your body is initially disposed of. See Carl Sagan's "The Cosmic Connection" for more details. The first minute of this clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson expresses the same thought: