Celestis Inc, a Houston-based firm that in 1997 arranged the launch of 1960s drug culture icon Timothy Leary's remains, is planning an April send-off in Russia for as many as 150 ash-filled capsulesas part of the cargo on a Kosmos 1 satellite.

The containers, filled with customers' choices of one or seven grams of remains, will share space with data transmission
equipment and
will orbit the Earth for as long as 156 years before re-entering the atmosphere as a shooting star.

Costs ranges from $995 to $5300 -  depending on the capsule size.

Can't make the April launch? Reservations are being taken for later flights.

If that doesn't send your dear one's heart racing, Celestis can arrange for a deep space radio message to be sent to a star you've previously named, for only $24.95.

"The cosmic call is very popular," said Celestis president and co-founder Chan Tysor. "We do 50% of our annual sales in December."

Moon burial

For $12,500, Celestis offers moon "burials", in which capsules are carried on lunar mission spacecraft.

"The cosmic call is very popular. We do 50% of our annual sales in December"

Chan Tysor
Celestis president

In 1998, the NASA Lunar Prospector transported a portion of the remains of scientist and comet discoverer Dr Eugene Shoemaker in its strut, which disintegrated upon landing.

The packages are becoming more popular with those who are searching for a one-of-a-kind gift, for space enthusiasts or for those eager for an alternative to conventional Earth-bound interments.

"Think Dad would rather have a tie or be immortalised as a space pioneer?" the Celestis website asks gift givers at www.celestis.com.

Celestis plans to send its capsules on two or three satellites in 2004, up from one each in 1998 through 2001.

Personal messages

The rockets, which have included Pegasus and Taurus, usually take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara, California, though they have also been sent from the Canary Islands and Russia.

"Instantly, I knew this was it," said Susan Young, a mother of four whose husband, Peter Smith, died in a crash in his own plane eight years ago.

"This puts him where he wanted to be - it's the only choice that makes sense for him."

The family, who paid $995 for a "symbolic" one-gram capsule, plans to travel to Kazakhstan to see the April launch of the Dnepr rocket carrying Kosmos satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, known for launching Sputnik 1, Earth's first man-made satellite.

Clients can have their capsules inscribed with the deceased's name and a personal message.

Some have included "With our love, go in peace" and "One more big adventure".