Undertakers ponder offer to send ashes into orbit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 September, 1999, 12:00am

Hong Kong's fascination with the afterlife is being targeted by an American firm sending remains of the dead into space in what it bills the ultimate 'ashes to ashes' experience.

Celestis Incorporated, a privately-owned firm based in Houston, Texas, is in discussions with Hong Kong funeral home Po Fook Shan to start selling its services in SAR.

'We are sure this is going to appeal to Chinese people and we hope they can be a key early market for us,' said Celestis co-founder Charles Chafer.

'As mankind spreads out into the new frontier, space, so too will our rituals. We see this as an entirely natural progression.' A Po Fook official said negotiations with Celestis were close to a conclusion but declined to say when the service would be ready to take SAR customers on their final voyage.

'We have been in discussion for some time and we hope to finalise an agreement soon,' he said.

Celestis is now taking bookings for its third flight next month from Vandenberg Air Force base in California on a rocket sending a South Korean satellite 680km above the Earth. Its first ashes flight was made in April 1997.

Canisters containing the ashes of anyone whose estate is willing to pay at least US$4,800 (HK$37,200) will remain in the rocket body and orbit alongside the satellite.

After between 40 to 44 years, gravitational forces will finally drag the rocket through the atmosphere to a fiery end - described on Celestis' Web site as 'blazing like a shooting star in final tribute'.