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Guest: Charlie Chafer; Topics: Celestis Memorial spaceflights, their multiple missions and destinations including the Moon and deep space, pets, and more.
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We welcomed Charlie Chafer back to the show for Celestis updates regarding their offerings of memorial spaceflight for loved ones and pets with cremated ashes, DNA, or digital content. We started the discussion with a bit of history going back to the beginning of the commercial space period with the first commercial rocket launch in which Charlie was a key participant in that event. He even talked about their having a launch site that today is very close to the SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas launch site as they were operating out of Matagorda, Texas. As we moved through the history part of our discussion, our guest started discussing and describing the various memorial spaceflight missions offered by Celestis.
All of the Celestis memorial spaceflights are listed on their website, www.celestis.com, along with costs and additional details. I suggest you follow along from the website with our discussion. Click on the upper menu tab on their home page, "Experiences & Pricing." Our guest took us through each mission experience during our program. The two experiences that got my attention were the lunar experience and the deep space experience. We learned that the deep space mission does not leave the solar system but goes out to about 250 million miles from Earth and remains in that type of orbit. It is referred to as their "Infinite Voyage" experience. You can read about it here: https://www.celestis.com/experiences-pricing/voyager. This memorial experience is available with cremated ashes, DNA and digital copy. Later in our discussion we talked about tracking all of the Celestis missions including this one. Family and friends will know where it is from the tracking information on the website.
I was also interested in the lunar experience as I am signed up for the experience that will launch next year on an Vulcan Centaur rocket as it will be carrying ashes from my Mom and two great dogs. The mission to the Moon will do a soft landing with the Astrobotic Peregrine lunar lander. As our guest explained, the Celestis module will remain inside the lander on the lunar surface. Should the mission end up with a hard landing, the module would likely be on the lunar surface. Our guest also described the suborbital and orbital experiences.
We did talk about including family member DNA or DNA from the deceased if cremation were not possible. Later in the show, our guest mentioned digital content like a photo or something else. Charlie said they work with a DNA collection company to specifically handle the DNA. Charlie was asked about assuring customers that some how the pet or human ashes were not mixed up with that of another. Our guest spent time talking about their chain of custody procedures for both people and pets. As you will hear, they have very tight controls.
A good part of the discussion focused on the fact that Celestis was started as a commercial business and still is one today. He explained why they used commercial launchers, not government launches with a ride share on a government mission, especially today when the commercial launcher market is expanding. In addition, Charlie talked about the fact that a Celestis payload was actually a useful payload to the launcher as it was inert. It could be used for ballast, for shielding or any number of other needs by the launching company as their payload module does not contain electronics, fuel or anything other than memorial containers.
Several listener emails were received. One asked him if there had been an increase in the business due to the many thousands of Covid deaths around the world. Don't miss what he said about the pandemic as it might surprise you. Our guest was asked about the nationality of the customer base. He said they were global but most of the memorials were from the U.S. He said Japan was a big participant in their flights plus he mentioned some other nations and regions. Charlie talked about how memorial flight arrangements were made. Often they can be made through a funeral home but most are made directly with Celestis. Before moving on, our guest described the services in detail, the memorial information provided the family documenting the flight, plus all and their friends are invited to the three day celebration of life experience which culminates with the rocket launch. This three day experience is documented with video and photographs which participants get as a record of the memorial flight for their loved one.
Near the end of the program, our guest was asked about financial arrangements. They do make them plus they work with people who want to assign life insurance benefits to Celestis to pay for the experience. They also do pre-arranged and paid for memorial flights in advance of the person's death. One of the commercial questions asked our guest dealt with competition to Celestis. Don't miss what Charlie said about it. I noted that The Space Show was not being contacted for guests or promotions by a competing company so I was skeptical that there was serious competition to Celestis. Both Charlie and I thought there might be future competition as commercial launches grow in number with reduced prices, plus the cost of traditional funerals as cremation is usually considerably less expensive than a traditional funeral. By the way, we learned that Celestis will provide an ashes scattering service for the remained of the loved one's ashes. He cited the Cape and Banana River area as an example of this additional service.
Late in the program Fremont John called. He was interested in a more detailed description of origins of Celestis. Charlie provided one going back to space burial in science fiction in the 1850's. Don't miss this more detailed history. Nearing the end of our program, our guest was asked about regulatory compliance. Our guest spoke to FTC regulations and funeral service standards including chain of custody procedures. Before closing, our guest asked about launching to the Moon on the first ever Vulcan flight and going to the lunar surface on the first ever Astrobotics lander. The listener was wondering just how concerned and how risky launching on the first of these important pieces of space hardware might be. Charlie talked about both ULA and Astrobotics and mentioned the Celestis guarantee to do another launch if the first fails.