23 September 1998

Rant! Dandruff In Space

"For years we brought space to the public. Now we want to bring the public to space," says aspiring space mogul Tom Rogers, whose zest for off-the-shelf sound bites hides a terrifying entrepreneurial flair. "We are no longer in the laughing phase," he assures us. His company will be laughing all the way to the bank, however, when the "public" starts paying the US$100K Tom intends charging for the chance to cavort in zero gravity for less time than it takes to brush your teeth.

Space tours are coming - thanks to Tom's company and their mighty Space Cruiser, scheduled to make its debut on December 1, 2001. "If a journey into space has been one of your life's great dreams," reads the pamphlet, "this is the trip for you." For two-and-a-half minutes wannabe Will Robinsons will be able to turn somersaults in the aisle, spill their dry-roasted peanuts and swim from porthole to porthole snapping pictures of the Earth 62 miles below. Then it's time to buckle up and return to gravity, with just the snapshots and a complimentary space suit to remind them of the journey.

But you don't have to be rich to make it past the stratosphere. You just have to be dead, as shown by Houston-based Celestis' latest venture. For just US$4,900 (payable in convenient ten dollar monthly installments) they'll blast your ashes into space aboard the Celestis - a kind of rocket-fueled galactic hearse. "We're giving people an opportunity to directly participate in a space mission," says co-founder Charlie Chafer. He'll even throw in a "keepsake video" of launch preparations for relatives to weep over - out of boredom, presumably.

It's the kind of daffy behaviour we would expect from Timothy Leary who (along with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and space colony "designer" Gerard O'Neill) is currently the most famous dead person to orbit Earth in an ashtray. Yet already, twenty-four others have signed up. Before long it will be impossible to rocket into space without choking your engines on some guy's mortal remains.

Charlie's other big venture should give rise to at least one Steven Spielberg movie. Charlie wants to put your DNA in space, in the form of six strands of hair. For US$50 they'll pack it aboard the Encounter spacecraft (along with a digitised photo), and fling the whole caboodle clear out of the solar system.

"Encounter 2001 is the first opportunity for all of us to reach out beyond our solar system with our dreams, thoughts, and essence," says Chafer. Those dreams, thoughts and essences will make him a very rich man - especially if he reaches his target of 4.5 million samples by launch-day in 2001.

The idea of aliens stumbling over a job-lot of human hair-clippings and dandruff appeals immensely. For the aliens' sake, let's just hope Charlie screens for headlice.

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