The late actor James Doohan, best known for his role as "Scotty" on the original Star Trek series, left instructions in his will that he wished to be buried in space. His family worked hard to fulfill that wish, and made arrangements with Celestis, Inc., a subdivision of the Houston-based company Space Services that offers "post-cremation memorial spaceflights."
Those remains became part of the payload for a 2008 SpaceX Falcon 1 launch attempt that didn't reach orbit because of technical problems. Each failed attempt was newly agonizing for family members, prolonging their grief and lack of closure.
But today, seven years after "Scotty's" death, SpaceX successfully launched his ashes into space. From the startrek.com website today:
Doohan’s ashes – which also were launched to space in 2008 as part of an unsuccessful mission -- were part of a secondary payload included on the second stage of the rocket, not on the Dragon itself. That payload separated from the capsule at the 9-minute, 49-second mark and is now orbiting, on its own, above the Earth. It’s expected to stay in orbit for approximately a year before descending back to Earth and disintegrating during re-entry.
Wende Doohan, James Doohan's widow, was on hand for the launch with the couple’s daughter, Sarah, now 12. Doohan posted a photo on Twitter and tweeted the following comment early today. “Sarah and I enjoyed watching a beautiful rocket launch this morning - certainly a first for her.” Also, on May 18, Doohan tweeted the attached photo of Sarah at Cape Canaveral with a caption that read “Following Daddy’s footsteps?”
In 2008, just after that last unsuccessful attempt, we shared on Boing Boing a personal account of what the process felt like for Doohan's family. It was written by Ehrich Blackhound, one of Doohan's seven children. Here it is again, below.
Rest in peace, in space, Mr. Doohan. And on behalf of all of us at Boing Boing, our best to the whole family.
My father loved engineering. Anything he could do to visit NASA, an aircraft carrier, a submarine, he'd do it. There was no end to the enjoyment he received when people would come up to him and say, "I'm an engineer because of you." So when a company in Texas offered to launch his remains into orbit, we could only accept.
It's been just over 3 years since my dad, James Doohan, passed on. In that time, there have been many memorials, the most recent of which to commemorate Linlithgow, Scotland, as the future birthplace of Scotty. But his launch into space was the most publicized, and it was to be the most significant.
There have been many attempts to send my father on his way. On Saturday, the latest launch attempt by SpaceX, with a portion of my father's remains aboard, failed to achieve orbit. While there are many complicated reasons why this is a disappointment, mine is simple: I'd like to finish saying goodbye.
Every launch attempt is like reliving his funeral. There’s a lot of pomp and ceremony, and a retelling of his deeds in life. But at the end of these funerals, something goes awry, the body doesn't get buried, and you know you're going to have to come back to do it over again.
I'm not laying blame on anyone for the delays. It's difficult, living on the cusp of technology. Where most of us lament the premature obsolescence of our cell phones, there are those few of us who've pinned the memories of our family members on a rocket, hoping it will touch the sky.
My dad believed in human ingenuity, and he believed in mankind's destiny beyond the exosphere. That it would take several attempts in these early stages to successfully achieve orbit would not have phased him. I can accept this, because of who he was, and because he knew it was all a part of progress.
For those reasons, I know that his spirit will persevere, and others will keep those launch attempts coming. The act of sending a loved one's remains into space will someday be commonplace, even if we have to book a space flight ourselves to make it happen. That's the kind of progress my father believed in.
But I'm not sure I can hang on until then. Grieving can't wait for the pace of progress, and I have to say goodbye now. So when news of the next launch rolls around, please don't ask me about it; I won't be paying attention.
If my father has anything to do with it, though, I'm sure that ship will get where it's going.
-- Ehrich Blackhound, 2008
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.