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Go to space on the cheap
Updated: 2004-07-14 09:15

You don't need US$20 million to be a space tourist anymore. Just US$1,000 will put you in orbit -- or at least a gram of your incinerated remains.

After a three-year hiatus, privately held Space Services Inc. is poised to resume service in September launching containers full of people's ashes into space, where they will circle the Earth for years.

"We're hopefully 65 to 90 days away from the largest ever space funeral launch," Charles Chafer, president and chief executive of Houston-based Space Services said.

Chafer said the upcoming launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California would carry the partial remains of up to 150 people. The launch will also be the first-ever flight of the Falcon, a low-cost reusable rocket developed with the backing of Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Though cremation is increasingly acceptable in the United States, where cremation rates quadrupled from 1972 to 1996-- Chafer said one-third of his customers were from Japan, where cremation has always been a more accepted practice..

The cost for sending a large container with 7 grams of cremated remains is US$5,300.

The company also offers its client a video of the launch and provides software that allows families to track the orbital location of their loved ones' remains in real time.

The last funeral flight, in September 2001, failed to reach orbit, but three prior launches did.

The company pledges a free relaunch if the first attempt fails. Chafer said the families of 48 of the 50 people whose remains were on the last flight had opted for another attempt.

"The key to the business is the routine access to space," Chafer said, adding the company planned to make three to four launches a year if the Falcon program proves successful.

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