Dave Barry

Classic '97: Have we even considered the consequences of shooting people's ashes into space?


This Dave Barry column was originally published Tuesday, April 22, 1997 with the headline "Blame invasion of alien dandies on vial idea"

Maybe we want to re-think this.

I'm talking about this idea of sending deceased people's ashes up into space. This is exactly what was done Monday morning with the remains of 24 people, including Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek ; and Dr. Timothy Leary, the brilliant, innovative thinker who came up with the brilliant innovative thought of spending his entire adult life whacked out on drugs.

Ashes from these people were placed in 24 ``lipstick-size metal vials,'' which were placed in a rocket, which was launched into orbit from a plane flying over the Canary Islands. The cost for this service, provided by a Houston company called Celestis Inc., was $4,800 per vial (this price does not include an in-flight meal).

Now, I certainly believe that deceased people have the right to have their ashes disposed of in whatever way they want. I once wrote about a company in Des Moines, Iowa, that caters to deceased sportspersons. For a fee, this company will put a sportsperson's ashes inside a shotgun shell, which will then be fired at a duck or other game animal of the sportsperson's choice; or the ashes can be placed inside a duck decoy or fishing lure (I am not making this up).

Now I personally would not find much comfort in the image of my earthly remains being carried off in the mouth of a largemouth bass with the IQ of a golf ball, but I certainly would not stand in the way of this being done to somebody else's remains (here I am thinking specifically of Geraldo Rivera).

But I am troubled by this rocket idea. I say this because when we put something up in space, two things can happen to it, and neither of them is good.

One thing that can happen is that, after a few years in orbit, the rocket containing the vials of remains will come back down; this is what Celestis Inc. expects to happen. The company claims that the vials will burn up when they re-enter the atmosphere.

But what if they don't? What if they survive the re-entry and crash into an occupied building, such as a junior high school, spewing ashes all over the place? Think about it: Would you want your son or daughter inhaling microscopic pieces of Timothy Leary?

The other possibility is that the vials, while in space, will be picked up by alien beings. We know there are alien beings out there, because we see them every week on Star Trek ; they look sort of like human beings, but they wear huge quantities of makeup. They must have a voracious appetite for cosmetic products.

If they find a bunch of lipstick-size metal vials, they'll probably conclude that it's lipstick and try it on. If they like the particular shade, they'll come to Earth looking for more.

I for one do not wish to wake up one morning and turn on the TV to see Katie Couric, her face grim, announcing that our planet has been invaded by grotesque creatures with what is left of Gene Roddenberry smeared on their repulsive alien lips.

So I'm opposed to this ashes-in-space thing. When my time comes, I don't want my remains put in a rocket and blasted off to some uncertain fate. I want them disposed of right here on Earth, in a traditional, meaningful and dignified manner. That's right: I want my ashes to be put in a tastefully inscribed urn, which would then be blessed at a somber religious ceremony, placed inside a mortar and fired from close range at the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service. (``Audit THIS '' would be the tasteful urn inscription.)

Anyway, those are my views on death and taxes. And now, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to go put some steel plates on my roof, in case Tim and Gene decide to drop in.