A small rocket exploded seconds after launch earlier this week, failing spectacularly over the New Mexico desert. Unfortunately, its cargo was somber: it carried the cremated remains of a late NASA astronaut and chemist into the upper atmosphere on behalf of space memorial service Celestis, Gizmodo reports. It's an awkward development for a company that is trying to establish an entirely new kind of way of honoring the dead, though the company emphasized that the remains have been recovered and that it will attempt the launch again. "All 120 flight capsules are safely in the hands of launch personnel and will be returned to us awaiting our next flight as soon as UP and Spaceport America complete their investigation and any required fixes are implemented," said Celestis CEO Charles Chafer in the wake of the mishap. "You may have seen headlines in various media outlets that family members’ loved one’s capsules 'blew up.' Nothing could be further from the truth. While the rocket was destroyed in flight, the care and professionalism of our launch service provider — UP Aerospace — ensured that the Celestis payload was unharmed and will be able to be relaunched."
Failure to Launch
Celestis teamed up with Colorado-based rocket startup UP Aerospace for the launch. But mere seconds into the launch, according to local news, the startup's 20-foot SpaceLoft XL rocket blew up. The rocket was carrying the remains of Philip Chapman, a NASA astronaut who served as the mission scientist of the space agency's 1971 Apollo 14 mission to the Moon, as well as the remains of chemist Louise Ann O'Deen. Celestis has completed 17 memorial spaceflights since the 1990s, including one that impacted the Moon. Apart from the remains, the rocket was also packed with 13 payloads from NASA's TechRise Student Challenge, which were put together by middle and high school students.
One More Shot
Following the failed launch, Celestis is rushing to make things right. "Regarding today’s launch," Celestis wrote in a Twitter statement. "We are reviewing the details and the video with UP Aerospace. As soon as we have clearance from them about the details and the video itself, we will share all of that information with families via email." Celestis only carries a "symbolic portion of cremated remains or DNA sample," meaning that plenty of the remains still exist. "All participants aboard Aurora will be offered a complimentary reflight, per their contract with us, on our next Earth Rise mission, named Perseverance Flight," Celestis promised on its Facebook page. Meanwhile, Celestis is hoping to get another shot soon. "We have full confidence that UP Aerospace will find and fix the problem and we look forward to flying again with them when they are ready," Chafer told Gizmodo. Updated with comment from Celestis saying that the remains have been recovered and to clarify that the company has completed numerous missions including one to the Moon. More on space cremation: Parents Crowdfund to Send 11-Year-Old Son's Ashes to the Moon