May 12, 2007 -- It turns out that beaming Scotty up may have been the easy part.
Two weeks after the ashes of Star Trek actor James Doohan were launched into space, the rocket that carried them still has not been recovered.
Doohan is one of about two hundred people whose ashes blasted off from New Mexico's Spaceport America on April 28. The plan was to send them for a memorial ride in space, then return the ashes to loved ones on Earth.
But that plan went awry when the rocket carrying the ashes landed on top of a mountain in New Mexico's San Andres range -- a location so remote that it was even feared lost. Now, search teams say they know where the rocket is, but they can only reach it by helicopter. A recovery mission is planned for Wednesday.
Doohan's long journey home may not be exactly what his family and fans expected, but sending an "away team" to collect Scotty's ashes somehow seems appropriate.
"This is the best final tribute for someone like James Doohan," said Charles Chafer, owner of Space Services Inc., the company behind the launch. "Really, it was James's wish to join his buddy Gene [Roddenberry] in space."
Roddenberry was the creator of the "Star Trek" series. His ashes were on the company's first memorial spaceflight in 1997, along with those of the controversial 1960s icon Timothy Leary. Since then, Space Services has sponsored four more memorial flights, including one to the moon.
Doohan did not get quite the ride Roddenberry got, at least not yet. April's launch was a suborbital mission, meaning the spacecraft -- and the remains onboard -- reached the outer reaches of the atmosphere and fell back to Earth.
"We launch his remains into space and return them so there's a keepsake of a little bit of Scotty who has flown to space," Chafer said.
But Chafer said another portion of Doohan's ashes will fly on a future mission, when they will be released into orbit.
Not Just for Scotty
Also on board this flight were the ashes of a man who's been to space before -- Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, who orbited the Earth in 1963 and 1965.
Although it's the more well-known passengers on memorial flights who grab the headlines, hundreds of ordinary citizens are buying the service, which can cost as little as $1,000 for a suborbital flight.
"I think people are generally surprised when they begin to see that it's a memorial service that really almost anyone can afford," Chafer said. "Of course memorials are for the living and, as a result, we work very closely with the families…Actually our service is much more for the families than it is for the person that's departed."
But Space Services has competition in providing nontraditional memorials. Author Hunter S. Thompson had his ashes launched, not in a rocket, but from a cannon, as fireworks exploded to the tune of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."
More and more families are looking for dramatic send-offs for their loved ones, and the options range from merely unusual to truly bizarre.
LifeGem creates memorial diamonds using the carbon from a person's ashes or a lock of hair.
Another company, Eternal Reefs, combines ashes with concrete to make artificial coral reefs, which are then placed in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.
A loved one's remains can also nourish the lawn or garden, in the form of a special potting soil made by a new company called Floramorial. The price tag? About $250 for pets, or $350 for people.
Eternal Ascent in Florida will send ashes up to five miles above the Earth's surface in a large balloon that explodes when it reaches a certain altitude, scattering remains in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
"Once they see that balloon leave their hands and go up to heaven…it's a closure like none other," said Joanie West, owner of Eternal Ascent.
Why so many options? And why now? Chafer believes it's reflective of the baby-boom generation, which he said expects to shake things up even after death.
"As we baby boomers are getting to the age where we're thinking about what our memorial services will be, we want to do something a little bit different from what our parents and grandparents did," Chafer said.
"We want something that's less focused on grief and mourning…something that celebrates the life that we lived or makes a statement about what's important to us."