As a teenager, Michael Clive remembers taking the long train ride with his father from their home in Maryland to Virginia, to attend their first Mars Society meeting. Michael recalls watching his father talk excitedly with other space enthusiasts about the possibility of a future mission to Mars.
In death, his father, Alan, will be closer to his dream of a celestial voyage than ever before, said his son, now 39 and a resident of Castro Valley in Alameda County.
Alan's remains will be on board the inaugural launch of the highly anticipated Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will take off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Dec. 24. On board United Launch Alliance's rocket will be the remains and DNA samples of 338 people, including some members of the original "Star Trek" TV series.
"He always figured out a way to exceed his own limitations," Clive said of his father. He said he was happy to help his dad achieve his dream by securing a space for his remains on the Tranquility flight.
The memorial space flights are hallmarks of the Texas-based company Celestis Inc., which began its space flights in 1997. Minuscule capsules, ranging in size "from a lipstick container to about half a watch battery," attach to commercial space flights with excess capacity, said Celestis’ co-founder and CEO Charles Chafer.
Like Celestis' first mission, which carried remains from “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, this month's launch will also include the remains of several people connected to the original TV series — including Nichelle Nichols (who played Lt. Uhura), Jackson DeForest Kelley (who played Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy) and James Doohan (who played Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott).
Costs to rocket a loved one's remains into space can run up to $12,995 for a lunar landing or deep space launch, according to Celestis' website.
The Dec. 24 launch is the first time two memorial flights have been attached to the same rocket ship, Chafer said — the Tranquility and the appropriately named Enterprise flight. The rocket will first dispatch a lunar lander to conduct studies of the moon. Seventy capsules containing remains will accompany the lander to the surface of the moon.
"It becomes their ultimate memorial site," Chafer said. "Everyone on Earth can look up at night on a full moon and see where Grandma is memorialized."
The rocket will then continue its course, with the spacecraft blasting about 100 million miles into orbit around the sun.
"It will be humanity’s furthest outpost," Chafer said.
For years, Michael Clive has been waiting to make good on his promise to give his dad a space memorial.
Alan grew up in Detroit but spent much of his adulthood in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. After losing his sight at age 22, Alan became a vocal advocate for disabled victims of disaster, particularly throughout his 23-year career with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Equal Rights. But his true love was always space.
Alan would read his son bedtime stories from science fiction novels, and they frequently took trips to the National Air and Space Museum, Michael recalled. Their favorite movie was "Apollo 13," with Michael watching and explaining the scenes to his father.
Alan died in 2008 after a 10-year fight with prostate cancer, Michael said. Not long after his father's death, Michael said he was inspired to switch from his career in movie special effects in Hollywood to aerospace. He took adult courses at Venice Beach High School to learn how to manufacture aerospace components and design his own rockets. Michael then went on to work at aerospace start-ups, including SpaceX, in and around the Los Angeles area.
"That was catalyzed by his death," Michael said of the role his father's passing played in his decision to switch careers. "He had no idea that would happen."
In addition to people's remains, the Enterprise flight will take digital data, such as original music compositions, into Earth's orbit. Satellites typically last about five years before the "law of physics, gravity and solar activity bring the spacecraft down into the very edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, where ... it basically disintegrates," Chafer said.
"It’s designed that way so that we don’t create space debris," he said. "Basically dust to dust."
While more commercial industries are partnering on flights to space — including pharmaceuticals — Celestis has been selling space memorials for more than 20 years. The Tranquility and Enterprise voyages will be the company's 19th and 20th flights, Chafer said, and the rate of missions has increased in recent years.
Michael is hoping the launch Dec. 24 will coincide with clear nights and a full moon. He plans to track the coordinates of the rocket and aim his telescope at the night sky when his father's remains reach their final resting place.
With the pace of space travel, Michael mused about the possibility of his daughters — 3-year-old Lyra who loves rockets, or 7-month-old Maia, whose middle name is Alan after her grandfather — one day getting a chance to visit the moon.
"It's weird to say that, right?" he said. "It's reasonable to think that someone in my family — like maybe my daughters or maybe their granddaughter — will just take a ride to the moon one day and actually visit his grave there."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.