#105 May 1997
Section 126.96.36.199.105.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
With the orbiting of the Celestis capsule, via a Pegasus launcher, carrying the cremated remains of twenty-some people, it would seem that an historic threshold has been crossed. However, the orbit is too low and the remains will be "in space" for only about a year before a "fiery reentry." What we have is only a gesture, an overture. The day is yet to come when the first human born of Earth-clay will be laid to rest in whole or in ashes, truly off planet.
Yet the Celestis mission fails only because the sole affordable launcher wasn't powerful enough. Psychological and legal barriers will have indeed been dismissed and the gates to heavenly disposal are now clearly open.
Where are more appropriate sites located? To be above the point where orbital decay induced by drag from high atmospheric traces will inevitably win out, any "orbiting cemetery" should be at least 450 miles or 700 kilometers above the surface, not that difficult a destination. "Higher LEO" may soon be a popular resting place for a growing number of the cosmically-conscious well-heeled.
If the Russians want to get into this money-making act, their Molniya launchers and Molniya orbits might quickly become much more popular, both with those anticipating internment in space and with the beloved whom they leave behind on Earth. Molniya orbits are very eccentric and can be launch-determined so that their low points (perigee) at which the internment capsule is traveling very fast (both actually, and through the overhead sky) is over the part of the world opposite their homeland, while the high point (apogee) at which it is traveling very slow (both actually, and through the overhead sky) lies over their homeland for a major portion of each day, noon to midnight, for example.
Internment in GEO, or geosynchronous orbit, would be both more expensive and much more difficult to arrange, as GEO slots are already too limited and need to be reserved for communications etc. More expensive yet, at least at this juncture, would be internment in the L4 or L5 Lagrangian Sargasso-like dust seas. These areas, long popular with Space Settlement enthusiasts (e.g. the L5 Society) center some 240,000 miles out in the Moon's orbit, respectively 60° ahead and 60° behind the Moon's position, keeping approximate formation.
Another possibility is internment in "solar" orbit, beyond the shoulders of the gravitational well of the Earth-moon system. This will appeal to those who see mankind expanding to fill "all the space under the Sun". Next in expensiveness would be capsules on solar "escape trajectories", following Pioneers 10 and 11, and Vikings 1 and 2 out of the system altogether, forever to drift among the stars at random. "Ad Astra", it will hype on the brochure. "To the Stars, your personal dream can come true!"
Not only will residents of Earth be buried in such orbits, a few future residents of the Moon, Mars, and other surface locations may also choose such arrangements. But, as opposed to visitors, those who have come to settle, or who have actually been born there, will predictably strongly prefer burial of some form on their adopted home worlds.
So far, we have been talking only about disposition of ashes, which weigh far less and are much more compact than whole bodies. The fuel and transport bill for intact burial in space could be as much as a hundred times higher. However, it goes without saying that many who actually die in space, stationed there or in transit, will simply be set adrift out the airlock with appropriate ceremony, Navy (and Star Trek) style. Their fares into space have already been paid, and this disposition will be an incrementally inexpensive option.
But, beyond settlers and others stationed beyond Earth, will people who have lived all their lives on Earth and never been beyond orbit choose disposition of their remains on the Moon and Mars or other planetary surfaces? Certainly, as soon as the option becomes affordable and feasible. Crash-landing of Celestis-like capsules on the Moon is certainly not technically or financially difficult, but neither may it be seen as desirable. But soft-landing on-surface disposition of such capsules should not be that much further down the road. For myself, if I had the bucks to choose, I'd want my ashes strewn on some Luna City memorial flower bed - that presumes an outpost, still over the horizon. [MMM # 47, JUL '91, p. 6 "Funerals Befitting Future Space Pioneers"]
While cremation has long since shed its 'anti-resurrection' stigma, there are surely some who would prefer to keep their bodies more intact and yet would like to be interred in space - somehow. Making such an option affordable would seem to demand some way to reduce the body's net weight. A few years ago, an entrepreneurial Minneapolis outfit offered to "freeze dry" departed pets "in whatever favorite posture" the customer would like. We have heard no more since of this enterprise, and assume that at nearly a thousand bucks a shot, there was insufficient business to provide cash flow. However, apparently the technological hurdle from freeze drying banana chips to whole pet bodies has been success-fully mounted. (We could find nothing on this via the web search engine we used).
Nature has led the way, of course, preserving the remains of birds and seals in mummified freeze-dried state in the Antarctic. We have suggested before the ready-to-seize entrepreneurial opportunity of offering the option of internment under glass (to keep out flesh-blackening utltraviolet rays) and under a heavy "hardware cloth" mesh screen (to keep out scavenging Skua birds) in one of the Antarctic "Dry Valleys" like Wright or Taylor, where one could lie out in the open, naturally preserved face-up under the stars. We have dubbed such a future resting place a "dessicatorium", and suggested it as a preview of above surface internment on the Moon and Mars (atop Olympus Mons, for example).
Dessicatoria in orbit? More expensive than Celestis to be sure. But why not. Bodies could be cord-wood stacked, staggered on a bias under a glass hull, so that they each faced Earth, or the stars, in whatever grav-stabilized orientation they preferred.
[WEB EDITOR: scan in illustration from hardcopy]
Animal and human bodies are approximately 70% water by composition. So freeze drying would make the proposition of "intact" burial off planet that much more affordable. Taking a page from the ancient Egyptians, we can improve on this further. What we want to preserve intact is the visible body. We can eviscerate it first, cremating the internal organs (with brain) and placing the ashes inside the body shell in a small capsule called a Canopic Jar.
To compare, the all-ash "Columbarium" keeps some 3% of the original live body weight. The freeze-dry "Dessicatorium" preserves about 30%. Canopic Dessicatoria (organs to ashes) would keep about 15%
[WEB EDITOR: scan in illustration from hardcopy]
[Key to illustration]
% of live weight a cremated (all ashes)
b integrally freeze dried body
c dry body shell, organ ashes
Next, of course, will be enterprises providing internment site visitation by the bereaved!
The Basics Of Freeze Drying
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto