Gifts 'from outer space'

2005-12-26 12:14
Washington - Offer a personalised star for Christmas, or buy your late loved one a celestial sepulchre - a Texas company specialising in extra-terrestrial services for space lovers has a gift line that few others can match.

Houston-based Space Services Inc certainly markets its gifts out of this world.

Since 1997, the company has offered the opportunity to have one's ashes, post-cremation, delivered up into orbit for posterity.

More recently, the company has offered the chance for people to single out a star and have it named for whoever they like.

Space Services chief executive Charles Chafer explains:"We are attempting to give the public around the world the opportunity to be involved in very real space missions".

The challenge of arranging space flights for its special payload notwithstanding, the company's space burials have really taken off. It is preparing for its sixth launch in March 2006.

The first launch in 1997 carried the remains of 24 men - including those of Gene Roddenberry the creator of the legendary television series Star Trek.

Also on board were 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary, and Princeton University physicist Gerard ONeill.

'Reflecting the need'

The upcoming launch will carry the remains of the actor James Doohan, who played the engineer on the spaceship Enterprise.

Chafer says the company sends vials of people's ashes into space as a secondary payload accompanying commercial launches of satellites. The ashes are then set into orbit at the same level of the satellite.

The company charges by weight - $995 (about R6 400) for a capsule containing one gram of a person's ashes inserted into a container resembling a lipstick tube.

Chafer says the launches "reflect a growing trend in the United States, and around the world, of doing things with someone's ashes that will be meaningful for that person".

More recently, Space Services has come up with a new idea: to allow people to unofficially name stars. The idea is that people will name stars for their loved ones as gifts.

Customers tell the company a constellation or astrological sign that interests them, and the company officers a list of possibilities.

From there the process is automated - an e-mailed star certificate, a photograph of the star, and other helpful information.

Next year, a customer will be able to look at their star live, simply by tapping into a page on the company's website.

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