Ever since people first started dying, other people have taken it upon themselves to do something with the body. Moving it away from people is completely understandable, since food and water do not mix with decay; also, nobody smells good when they’re dead. However, a few particular people had to sit around spending serious time coming up with some of the other methods.
I say particular, to be nice. What I really wanted to say there was ‘peculiar’…but hey, to each his own. We might even modify that last saying under other circumstances, but I don’t think a lot of women are going to get offended by me assuming most of the folks who sit around thinking about dead bodies are men.
Some quack came up with the formaldehyde solution quite a few years back, and a whole bunch of other quacks since have recommended it without pointing out to grieving family members that it is both a costly and an unnecessary procedure. But we already talked about that, in Resurrection Used To Be Common.
Whoever decided it might be fun to launch the remains of dead celebrities into space probably never considered that the move may pique the public’s interest in space burial. They were just following in the tradition established by rocket scientists and engineers; once the creator of ‘Star Trek’ died, it only seemed natural that some of his remains should be shipped into space.
I mean…if you’re the kind of person who sits around thinking about this sort of thing, it probably makes total sense.
If the people who labor their whole long lives to build technology that puts us closer to the stars should get that chance, why shouldn’t the creator of a popular television show that takes place in space? It’s pretty much the same job, right?
To be fair, everyone has to be burned before they go. Cremation is a prerequisite for space burial, and they usually only send a small portion of the ashes. Also, pretty much everyone that goes into space post-mortem is slated to return to their planet of origin. Either the craft orbits for a while and returns to burn up in the atmosphere, or they land it and retrieve the ashes.
Gene Roddenberry’s remains went up once in 1992, only to return to Earth along with the shuttle. A private spacecraft took the ashes back five years later, and burned up during reentry as planned. Fans of rocket science might be interested to know Kraft Ehricke’s ashes were on that flight as well, and the rest of us might get a kick out of knowing Timothy Leary was right there with them.
If anyone should have been allowed to stay in space, it’s Timothy Leary. Alas, he burned up in the atmosphere with the others. I might say it was possibly the most incredible trip of his life, but he would probably disagree if he could. He can’t, though; he’s dead, and his body was burned twice afterward.
That’s, like, double dead; if my author math is right.
When they first tried to send the guy who played Scotty on Star Trek into space, in ash form, the craft didn’t quite make it into space proper. Apparently, they didn’t know how to give her all she’s got. The next time they got it right, and his remains made it all the way up there. Spock didn’t actually get shot into space, despite my joke in last week’s post; but they did name an asteroid ‘4864 Nimoy’ in his honor. And, don’t worry: they already have Roddenberry’s wife in the queue for a space burial.
In fact, a whole bunch of people are in line for this service. Now rocket scientists and celebrities are not the only ones who get to orbit the planet and then burn up in its atmosphere after they die. Anyone can do it, to the tune of about twenty-five hundred dollars. It might sound a little silly to some folks, but it’s no more silly or spendy than pumping a dead body full of formaldehyde, and people do that all the time. You turn over a small sample of your loved one’s ashes, write the check, and let the rocket scientists take care of the rest; they’ll send those remains into orbit, then turn it into a shooting star in the night sky awhile later.
Or they’ll cash the check, and tell you those ashes made it on board with all the others. You won’t have any way to verify whether they actually do or not, and you’re trusting a bunch of people who think shooting people’s remains into space sounds like a good business model; but again, most of the other ways people deal with human remains are pretty boring next to this one.
Maybe it’s not such a bad business model after all.
Whether they follow through or not, you’ll still have plenty of ashes left over to do other weird shit with. Twenty-five hundred bucks may get you a spot on the shuttle, but it’s a spot about the size of a lipstick case. A whole human body’s worth of ashes would be too big of a package to keep shipping costs reasonable, and even the scientists and celebrities who get to ride for free are usually only partially represented.
As far as whole bodies go, only three human corpses have floated around in space to our knowledge; and that’s because they died up there. The bodies were retrieved, though; so don’t worry about catching a glimpse of a frozen corpse in your telescope. The only bodies drifting in space as far as we know are animal corpses, monkeys and dogs and chimps that were sent up to find out if mammals could survive up there. Some of them made it back, but others didn’t; and the crafts they were unable to retrieve still drift through space. We can only assume the animals inside them are still there, and long since dead.
Gross, right? Last week we talked about how trashy all those dead satellites in Earth’s orbit might make us look to approaching aliens, in They’re Filling Space With Junk. However, I would personally rather be represented by space junk than frozen primate bodies; but I don’t get to choose which hunk of floating debris they run into first.
Speaking of they…it’s a weird word, isn’t it? A lot of us love to rely on the technology of the modern age, and some of us take a moment every now and then to be grateful for the geniuses of the world. We might even lump ourselves in with these world changers, and say things like, “we put a man on the moon” or “we now have technology that can be piloted remotely to bomb a wedding on the other side of the world”. The truth is, though…you and I didn’t have anything to do with early space travel, and most of us don’t own remote controls that pilot war drones. It’s just a mistake of semantics, one most of us have made at one time or another.
Or is it? Could it be that all Americans can be lumped together in certain instances, and the whole of humanity can be referred to collectively in others? Is it possible we’re all in the same boat in more ways than we might think, and that credit and consequence should be shared equally among us in many cases?
Maybe. It’s certainly a thought that hurts to think, and a subject worth discussing. We’ll do that in a couple weeks, when we get back to the regularly scheduled posts. Next week I have a special announcement, and I hope you come back to hear it.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,