The moon burial business is no longer a monopoly.
San Francisco-based Elysium Space announced Wednesday (Aug. 12) that it has signed a contract with Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology to deliver people's ashes to the surface of the moon aboard Astrobotic's Griffin lander.
Another space burial company, Houston-based Celestis, also plans to fly cremated remains to the moon using Griffin (and using the lunar lander being developed by another company, Moon Express, as well). Celestis' moon burial options start at $12,500, while Elysium Space's "Lunar Memorial" service costs $11,950 (though the first 50 participants will receive a special rate of $9,950). [Watch a small rocket launch human ashes into space (Video)]
"From the first day we started Elysium Space and imagined awe-inspiring memorials, we thought that the moon could create the quintessential commemoration," Elysium Space founder and CEO Thomas Civeit, a former NASA engineer, said in a statement. "Offering this exceptional tribute within the reach of most families is an important part of this new chapter opening for our civilization."
The moon isn't the only off-Earth burial option offered by Celestis and Elysium Space. Both companies will also launch ashes into deep space or loft them to Earth orbit. (In this latter case, the remains eventually burn up in the atmosphere as "shooting stars.") And Celestis offers an "Earth Rise" service that sends an ashes-laden capsule to space and then recovers it back on the ground.
Neither Celestis nor Elysium Space operates its own rockets; both companies arrange to get ashes aboard rockets already scheduled to launch, as secondary payloads.
Celestis has flown a total of 13 space burial missions, with the first occurring in 1997. On that maiden flight, an Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) Pegasus rocket blasted into orbit a capsule containing the remains of 24 different people, including "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, writer and psychologist Timothy Leary and physicist and space-exploration activist Gerard O'Neill. The capsule re-entered Earth's atmosphere in May 2002, Celestis representatives said.
Celestis has also sent a payload to the moon. The company helped to launch some of planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker's ashes aboard NASA's Lunar Prospector mission, which blasted off in January 1998 and deliberately crashed into a permanently shadowed crater near the moon's south pole in July 1999.
Elysium Space, for its part, aims to launch its first space burial mission (which will go to Earth orbit) later this year.
Both Astrobotic and Moon Express, which is headquartered in Mountain View, California, aim to deliver payloads to the moon for governments, academic institutions, commercial companies and other customers. Both companies are competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million private competition to put a lander on the moon by the end of 2017.