Instead of giving your loved ones a traditional burial, why not send them off in style with a memorial spaceflight? That's the vision of Elysium Space, a company that aims to launch portions of cremated human remains into space.
Under Elysium Space's plan, human ashes will launch into space and orbit the Earth for several months before burning up in the atmosphere as a "shooting star." The company has already launched a mobile app to track ashes in orbit, and hopes to launch its first memorial flight in 2014.
"A memorial spaceflight is a unique experience for family and friends to make a memory and remember a loved one," said Elysium Space founder Thomas Civeit, a former NASA engineer. "We believe that now is the time to change the vision of death from the Underground to the Celestial." [Watch a small rocket launch human ashes into space (Video)]
The company is contracting with commercial space transportation companies such as Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, Civeit told SPACE.com, and the first launch is slated for summer 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Elysium Space isn't the first company to offer memorial spaceflights for the deceased.
The Houston-based firm Celestis, Inc. has been launching human ashes into space since 1997. Its inaugural flight carried the remains of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry.
The remains of Roddenberry's wife were later launched alongside his in a 2009 flight. Celestis has also launched the ashes of "Star Trek" actor James Doohan, who portrayed "Scotty" in the TV franchise, along with the remains of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper.
When Elysium Space customers purchase a memorial spaceflight, they will receive a kit with an ash capsule, which can be engraved with up to three initials, and a mini-scoop for transferring "a symbolic portion" of ashes to the capsule, according to a product description. The price of a launch is currently set at $1,990.
Customers will ship their capsules to Elysium Space, which will pack them into the spacecraft. Elysium will also engrave a remembrance message of up to 80 characters on metal plates attached to the spacecraft.
After the memorial spacecraft launches, customers will be able to track their loved one's celestial journey on a free mobile app, available on Apple's App Store and Google play. The app will show, in real time, where the spacecraft is and how the world looks from that location.
After a few months in orbit, the spacecraft will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up, leaving no space debris behind, Civeit said.
Civeit did not reveal how many people have signed up for an Elysium Space memorial flight yet, but did say there is "strong interest" for the service in both the United States and Japan. The company received orders within a week of its launch earlier this year.
"Funeral services have been changing over the last 50 years, transitioning from religious rituals to life celebration ceremonies," Civeit said. "Crossing the Milky Way and eventually becoming a shooting star is a poetic experience."
For more details on Elysium Space's space burial-tracking mobile app, visit: http://elysiumspace.com/pages/mobile-app