Families are creating new rituals by sending ashes into space

A company called Celestis is letting people load cremains into their rockets, which are then sent into space. Funeral home director Lisa Gregor tells us about her own plans to go to the moon.
Family members waving goodbye to their loved one at a Celestis rocket launch. (Celestis)
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Lisa Gregor is a funeral director at Adair Funeral Home in Tucson, Arizona.

During the week, she helps families with funeral planning. But a few years ago, she stumbled upon a company called Celestis, which led her to arrange her own memorial service. Gregor signed up for Celestis's Luna experience, which will deposit her ashes on the moon.

If you're going to be launched on the moon, anyone can go outside at night, anywhere in the world, and visit your grave by looking up.-Lisa Gregor

Celestis, based in Texas, offers space memorial flights. For a few thousand dollars, clients can launch a person's ashes to space and back, to the Earth's orbit, to the moon, or even deeper into space. Lisa's funeral home is one of the many distributors for Celestis.

Lisa Gregor is a funeral director from Tucson, Arizona.

Gregor has always been a big sci-fi fan, but says the bigger motivation was her family. "It's something not only I would want to do, but something that would actually benefit my family when my time comes," she said. Gregor pointed out that the traditional burial rituals have a number of problems. For example, it becomes hard to visit a loved one's grave when you move away. And if the remains are cremated, which family member gets to take the ashes?

These questions made Gregor think about her own family, which is spread out across the United States, and led her to sign up for Celestis' service. "If you're going to be launched on the moon, anyone can go outside at night, anywhere in the world, and visit your grave by looking up," she said. "It's a very comforting thing for a lot of families. It's a connection where it's healthy to let go but it's also healthy to have something to hang on to."

The launch

To get a sense of Celestis's service, in 2010, Gregor attended the Pioneer Flight launch in New Mexico. She took part in their Earth Rise service, which launched a rocket into space then returned it back to Earth.

"The day before the launch, they took everybody on a tour through the space station and we got to go to the actual launch pad to see the rocket," Gregor recalled. "They were showing families where their loved ones' ashes were on the rocket."

Celestis stores participants' ashes in tiny capsules that go on a rocket. (Celestis)

After the rocket returned to Earth, Celestis recovered the rocket and its payload, and the ashes were mounted on a plaque with a number on how high it went up. The whole launch was videotaped, and families received a memorial package that they took home.

The growing popularity of unconventional burials

The advent of technology has widened the number of burial options for people.

Besides the traditional route, you can order a biodegradable urn which turns your ashes into a tree, for example; or incorporate your ashes into fireworks that shoot up into the night sky; or sign up for the eternal reef service, which lets you become part of a living reef in the ocean.

Family members gather before the launch. (Aerospace Services Group)

"We want things that are less traditional [today], we want to start our own tradition — something that is going to be remembered later in a positive light," Gregor said. "People are starting to want to personalize things. We're not just accepting that's the way that's supposed to be."

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