The ashes of a Titanic shipwreck explorer are poised to launch into space on Saturday in a suborbital memorial service to blast off from New Mexico.
A small portion of the cremated remains of Ralph White, a cinematographer who documented the 1985 expedition that discovered the wreck of the RMS Titanic, will fly to suborbital space and back alongside the ashes of 15 other people when their SpaceLoft XL rocket launches from New Mexico's Spaceport America at about 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on May 2.
The planned launch will mark the third liftoff for UP Aerospace, the Connecticut-based builder of the SpaceLoft XL rocket. It is also the second suborbital Earth Rise flight for Celestis, Inc., a Houston firm that offers a range of memorial spaceflight services that include burial in deep space, Earth orbit and even on the moon.
"Ralph's wish was for his ashes to be scattered all over the world by his friends and fellow adventurers," said White's fiancee Rosaly Lopes in a statement, adding that his ashes have already been to all seven continents.
By the time of his death in 2008, White had accrued more than 30 years of production experience as a cinematographer, video cameraman and editor. In addition to chronicling the Titanic wreck's discovery in 1985, he also co-directed a subsequent salvage operation that recovered more than 5,000 artifacts form the ill-fated luxury liner's debris field. White made more than 35 dives in submersibles to the Titanic wreck, which sits 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic sank on April 14, 1912 after striking an iceberg.
Celestis has christened Saturday's launch the Discovery Flight. The company's last memorial spaceflight - the Legacy Flight - launched in 2007 carrying the ashes of about 200 people, including "Star Trek" actor James Doohan and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper. Like that flight, the SL-3 mission will launch on a SpaceLoft XL rocket to an altitude of about 70 miles (112 km). The rocket's payload-carrying section is expected to parachute back to Earth so families can recover the ashes of their loved ones.
According to Spaceport America officials, the SpaceLoft XL rocket will also carry several educational payload canisters into suborbital space for New Mexico university, community college and high school students. One is OSCER-Sat, an experiment package to study how flight components operate at suborbital altitudes, was built by New Mexico State University while another was assembled by the University of New Mexico to test spaceflight systems. A third educational payload, called RocketSat is a community college experiment to test spaceflight sensors.
UP Aerospace's SpaceLoft XL rocket is a single-stage booster fueled by solid propellant that is capable of launching up to 110 pounds (49 kg) payloads on suborbital flights that reach 70 miles above Earth. The rocket is about 20 feet (6 meters) tall and each launch takes about 15 minutes from liftoff to parachute landing.
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