The centre of the MIlky Way: soon to be used as target practice for flying canisters of human remains. via WikiCommons.
Dying in and of itself comes with the usual long list of shit you gotta deal with, but thinking about what to do with your remains after you die is pretty stressful too. Most religions have strict burial guidelines. Jews are all about keeping it simple with a plain wooden coffin, Christians let you have pimped out coffins or urns to throw one’s ashes in, and Muslims wrap the body to make sure it gets into the ground ASAP.
But if you aren’t into doing it the religious way and want something different than an ceramic vase full of your dead ash that will sit on top of your kid’s fireplace until your loser grandkid knocks it over, Elysium Space can shoot launch your remains into outer space. They aren’t the first ones to do it, but they are doing it for the cheapest! So that perked my attention. I called up Thomas Civeit, the former NASA engineer who founded the company, and asked him how it works.
VICE: So why did you decide to devote your life to shooting human remains into outer space?
Thomas: I thought that all the new technologies, which are coming that make space accessible for almost everyone could be used for different things than just science and technology because the Cosmo systems are meaningful for so many people. How does one get their ashes into space?
People place a symbolic portion of the ashes in some small capsules [0.4 inches cubed] and then we collect all these capsules and we place them into a small nano satellite, then this spacecraft is integrated into a rocket—the same kind of rocket that launches scientific or commercial satellites. And eventually they are deployed into space. Is each one separated individually or is it mixed in with other people? I’m a private person and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else…
Each person has their own capsule. How long are the ashes up there for?
The mission lifetime varies, so if it’s 400km away like the International Space Station it would be in orbit for about a year. If the altitude is higher it’s longer, if it’s lower it’s shorter, so it varies from a few months to several years.
Is there any worry about more satellites being in our orbit or is there enough room up there?
You mean like orbital pollution? It’s a common question. It’s interesting to see that people are worried about it and we’re also worried about it. And we actually do not create orbital pollution because of what I just explained. It’s not going to be in orbit forever, so because after some months it just burns up—no orbital pollution.
Does it burn up completely?
It does. There’s nothing remaining.
Why do people even want to do this?
People want to celebrate the life of someone and are not so interested in the religious ritual thing as they used to be. So, we are bringing something meaningful to people that they can do to celebrate the life of someone, which is different from traditional burial or these kinds of things.
The cheapest way to get into space is to die and be incinerated. via WikiCommons.
The Greek word Elysium actually means afterlife, do you believe in that at all or do you just like the word?
Personally, wow that’s a pretty deep subject… I just want to know cause death and burial is a deep question…
I’m certainly a spiritual person and I do believe we need celebration especially in such an important moment, but I don’t have a specific religion. Are you an atheist?
Have you met anyone who thought they had a belief system or religion maybe that thought sending their ashes to space was part of what they are meant to do?
Not yet. I could imagine because space is very special, but I think it’s new for humanity that we have this option to maybe this will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.
What kinds of people are signing up for this then?
Interestingly it’s beyond space enthusiasts. Space is something really universal and it’s a meaningful place for humanity, so actually people just connect to it because it’s beautiful and because it’s meaningful. In general, people who like to put their ashes in beautiful places like beaches or some place they like are very likely to like the idea of space as well for the same reason.
Religion and burial itself are both really sensitive subjects. Have you had anybody who was super pissed about your plans to shoot human remains off of planet Earth?
No, actually I’ve never heard any negative feedback about it. I really feel like people are ready for this and it doesn’t hurt any feelings.
How long before you’ll be able to expand and put ashes on the Moon?
For a long-term vision we’d be very happy to do that and offer other services like the Moon or deep space or you know even the Sun, some people ask for the Sun. But we want to make our services affordable and I think it’s still a little bit too early for that, but I would say in the next few years that would be possible.
Are people able to decorate the capsule?
We already offer people the option to engrave their initials on the capsule to make it a bit more personal and customized. And the idea of making the capsule even more custom seems very good and I believe that in the future we will improve that.
How often are you going to be doing launches?
Next year during the summer will be our first launch and then we hope to have several launches increasing over time.
How many people have asked for this service?
Overall for next year’s launch we expect it could be 100 people or more. 100 is a minimum, but we could have hundreds. Will there need to be tests beforehand, or do you already know this is technology that is going to work?
We are all aerospace engineers and we do all the tests so we know that the technology that we use goes through safety requirements and engineering requirements and procedures. Are you going to shoot your ashes into space?
I will, certainly.
OK last question, do you believe in aliens?
I’ve never met them. I’m very rational, and I don’t believe in what I don’t see.
Tweet Joel before he sends his ashes into space one day: @JoelBalsam
Watch MOTHERBOARD's show about Space, Spaced Out.