“I love you to the Moon and back” is a line many parents use to express overwhelming affection for their children. One mother, is about to express it quite literally, however. In the afterlife.
San Francisco startup Elysium Space, made up of a unique mixture of self-proclaimed ‘space and funeral experts’, has announced it is ready to begin launching Lunar Memorial services thanks to a partnership with space robotics company Astrobotic Technology — and it will begin with the ashes of one mother who was particularly fond of the aforementioned phrase.
“Families now have the historic opportunity to commemorate their departed loved ones every night through the everlasting splendour and soft illumination of the Earth’s closest companion: the Moon,” Elysium Space boasts in a release.
The company already offers a Shooting Star Memorial option, in which ashes are sent briefly into orbit before returning to Earth as a bright streak across the atmosphere, with the first missions slated to take place this autumn. But when the startup heard the story of Steven Jenks, a US Army infantry soldier whose mother had passed away recently, it decided to launch the new service.
Jenks (right), from Seymour, Tennessee, approached Astrobotic (competing for the Google Lunar Xprize) with an unusual request, before the company had partnered with Elysium. He wanted to send his mother’s ashes to the Moon, following her death from lung cancer. She would always sign off her letters to her son: “No matter how lonely you feel and how far you are, always look at the Moon and know I am with you. I love you to the Moon and back. Love, Mom.” Jenks believed he had found a fitting way to commemorate her when he approached Astrobotic — the company was set up to send various payloads to the Moon, from scientific instruments to promotional materials for brands.
“It was perfect timing,” Elysium Space founder Thomas Civeit, an engineer who has worked on Nasa and ESA missions including Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, tells WIRED. “Steven Jenks told his touching story to Astrobotic as he wanted to have the ashes of his mother delivered to the Moon. Astrobotic does not provide such services to individuals but we were signing our contract with Astrobotic at the time and we were honoured to make Steven’s wish come true.”
“I will know that she is looking down on my family and maybe they won’t feel so alone,” Jenks added, in a statement.
The Lunar service will cost $9,950 for the first 50 participants, then $11,950, with the Shooting Star option costing $1,990. Customers will need to book a spot on the mission, and will then be sent an ash capsule with engraved initials that can be used to hold a sample of the deceased’s cremated remains. All samples will make their way to the Moon in a capsule delivered by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander, which will hop a ride on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
“Astrobotic has full control of the landing site and has been considering an area located in the northeast part of the Moon,” Civeit tells us. “It contains a pit that is a compelling exploration target for the mission.”
If you’re wondering how one goes about getting permission to land ashes on the Moon, in the US the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation grants licenses to service providers including, in this case, Astrobotic.
Civeit is a firm believer that “now is the time” for Lunar Memorials. When WIRED asked why, he argued it has in fact been a long time coming.
“The idea that humankind can look up at the Moon and poetically commune with its ancestors is probably as old as human culture itself as a symbolic practice, and was even mentioned by anthropologists as an actual commemoration in the last decades.” Civeit is referring to anthropologist Hikaru Suzuki, who suggests lunar memorials would be the ultimate ceremony in her book The Price of Death. Suzuki also happens to be an advisor for Elysium Space.
“This vision can now be transformed into reality as access to space is being provided by private companies rather than depending on government space programs,” Civeit continues. “As a great illustration, Astrobotic’s Griffin lander has the capability to open up a new era of lunar transportation services. The private space industry is now ready to provide a service such as the Lunar Memorial.”
Although Civeit’s claim that the Lunar Memorial service is “within the reach of most families” is debatable (though forgoing a costly, traditional Earthbound funeral would certainly help), the cheaper Shooting Star Memorial service has proven a hit to date. The founder tells WIRED the first mission is full, having clocked up around 100 participants, and reservations for a second mission slated for winter are still open. Civeit says the company gets “new participants every week”, despite the fact it has not yet sent a single particle of human ash into space.
Although seemingly a bizarre, if touching way, to choose to spend $9,950, this is not the first space funeral service in existence. If you’re keen on being launched into space one day when you depart this world, but are afraid to be separated from your beloved pet, Celestis Pets has already stepped into the fray and is promising to send your furry companion after you. The ‘world’s first pet memorial spaceflight company’ promises to send Fido off in style, in an engraved flight capsule containing one gram of the remains or a lock of hair.
We’re not sure this is what Elon Musk and SpaceX had in mind when it decided to revolutionise space travel. But innovation takes on all kinds of guises.