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Star-Struck Embrace Final Frontier as Final Resting Place

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some might say that sending ‘60s pop icon Timothy Leary to outer space was redundant.

But the same Houston outfit that rocketed Leary’s cremated remains in 1997 in the first commercial space burial is inviting the public to join him in intergalactic immortality. On Saturday, some people took them up on it.

At a busy Long Beach “Space Fair” convention, Carl Grillmaier paid $50 to send he and his wife’s DNA--six strands of hair--and a personal message on the next voyage mounted by the firm Encounter 2001.

“We all grow up wondering what’s out there. Some of us go farther than others,” said Grillmaier, 39, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. “I told my wife that long after the Earth is gone, this small spacecraft will be the last little relic of humanity out there.”

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Jason Klass, a member of the Space Tourism Society, was more ambitious. Along with hair samples, he and his girlfriend will send songs from the musical they co-wrote, “Planetopia,” including one called “Queen of Outer Space.”

“We can’t have children, and in a deep philosophical way this may be one way for my genetic makeup to live on, with a minute chance that it might be recovered by another species and we might be re-created,” Klass, 43, said. “And I could fall in love with my girlfriend all over again on another planet.”

Charles Chafer, president of Encounter--an affiliate of Celestic, which launched Leary--said they hope to send the contributions of 4.5 million people on the rocket, which is to head toward Jupiter and be propelled, if all goes well, to another solar system.

So far, 4,000 people have signed up, he said. Two who signed up at the convention ordered the $4,800 space funeral service that will send their cremated remains along in an engraved, lipstick-sized aluminum tube, Chafer said. He believes the market for this trip is huge in Japan, where cremation is the customary means of burial and funerals are very expensive. He says many Japanese people have contacted his firm’s Web site.

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“This is not space nuts. We’re giving people the opportunity to participate directly and personally in an interstellar space mission,” Chafer said. “Of course, commerce is essential to opening any frontier--including the American frontier.”

For Christopheri Pancheri, 24, an employee of a company that hopes to pioneer space tourism, it was not “Star Trek” or “The X-Files,” but the dream that he and his girlfriend’s personal message--included on a special atomic bomb-proof CD designed for the military--will float off into infinity.

“Whether or not there’s aliens out there, here’s a piece of me that will go on and on, even after I’m long gone,” Pancheri said. “Maybe one day this little satellite will be found, like in 3001. It’s the neatest little time capsule I could buy for $50.”


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