The Year in Science: Space 1997

One Last Trip

By Michael M. Abrams|Thursday, January 01, 1998
RELATED TAGS: SPACE FLIGHT
Timothy Leary, who was a Harvard psychologist and many other things, rocketed into orbit last May. Or at least part of him did. We launched a seven-gram sample of his ashes—about the amount that would fit inside a lipstick, says Chan Tysor, president of Celestis, which has started a space-age mortuary business. Leary’s was one of 24 ash samples on the maiden launch—he was accompanied by Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and Gerard K. O’Neill, a Princeton physicist and the author of High Frontier—but Leary was the only one who had asked to be on board. The two dozen capsules hitched a ride into space on a Pegasus XL rocket that was carrying a commercial satellite, and they will orbit Earth for approximately three years in the spent final stage. Celestis will keep track of that stage so fans and mourners can know at any time where the ashes are—especially when they reenter the atmosphere, at which time the rocket will form a shooting star, which will be visible if it happens on a clear night. According to Tysor, just days before his death Leary was watching a promotional video showing that burst of light when he jumped up out of his wheelchair and said, ‘That’s me! I want to be the light!’ Becoming the light costs $4,800 per passenger.
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