(Houston, TX) -- March 17 -- A new U.S. commercial space project is planning to launch samples of human hair from as many as 4.5 million people worldwide on a trajectory to Jupiter and beyond. The project's backers hope to make up to $225 million from people who will pay $50 each to have their DNA-laden hair launched on a spacecraft to be flung by Jupiter's gravity out of the solar system into interstellar space.
Called "Encounter 2001," the spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in 2001 as a payload on a Ariane 5 rocket launched from Kourou Space Center in French Guiana. The lower "blub" portion of each hair, which contains the most DNA, will be processed by a laboratory in California already gearing up to preserve the DNA in millions of hair samples.
"Individuals will be charged $50 to submit hair samples along with their pictures and small messages for launch," said Charles Chafer, president of Encounter 2001. Mr. Chafer is also president of the Celestis Foundation affliiated with Celestis, Inc., the same company that has made a business of launching symbolic portions of cremated remains of humans into orbit as a "space burial." The other partner in the Encounter 2001 venture is AeroAstro, a company experienced in building small innovative spacecraft.
Participants will be able to launch up to six strands of hair along with digitized pictures and short messages. Hair from people's pets will not be allowed. "This is for humans only," Chafer stated.
"The mission would be preceded by radio telescope transmissions beamed from Earth -- radioing, in effect, 'Here we come, ready or not' -- to any intelligent lifeform in deep space that might take an interest in the hair/DNA mission," Chafer said. Those transmissions are to start as early as Dec. 31 and will include the names of those who have paid to participate.
The Encounter 2001 limited-liability corporation formed by Celestis and AeroAstro hopes to realize $75-225 million. Initial maket studies by the project indicate 1.5-4.5 million people worldwide could pay to participate in the flight. The group last week signed a contract with a major international advertising firm to run a series of ads across the U.S. starting in April to obtain more precise market data.
"Spacecraft development and launch costs are extimated at $10-12 million and the Encounter 2001 project has already secured the $500,000 in financing," said Jim Spellman, one of the West Coast representatives for the Houston-based Celestis, Inc. "No additional financing will be required if public response equals our expectations. A final decision to proceed with the project is set for later this year, and spacecraft fabrication is expected to begin the first part of 1999."
The French space agency (CNES), and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Arianespace consortium will use an Ariane 5, Europe's new heavy-lift space booster to launch the Encounter 2001 spacecraft into an elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit along with one or two communications satellites unrelated to the deep space mission.
Following launch, the Encounter spacecraft would orbit the Earth for weeks or months waiting for an optimum trajectory to Jupiter. The spacecraft's escape engine would be fired when the Earth and Jupiter come into proper alignment, requiring two years to reach Jupiter where the planet's gravity would fling it on a trajectory out of the solar system.
"Encounter 2001 is the first opportunity for all of us to reach out beyond our solar system with our dreams, thoughts, and essence," said Mr. Chafer, who is also the president of Encounter 2001. "It's only appropriate that as new and innovative ways for public participation in spaceflight are developed, Celestis offers them."
In April 1997, Celestis launched the cremated remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, 1960's pop icon Timothy Leary and 22 other individuals into Earth orbit using a Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) "Pegasus XL" rocket. It was released over the Canary Islands from a converted L-1011 jumbo jet that is based at Meadows Field/Kern County Airport in Bakersfield, California.
On February 10, an OSC "Taurus" rocket rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force base in Santa Barbara County, Calif. placing the remains of 30 more individuals aboard the Celestis-02 spacecraft into Earth orbit. Another mission, Celestis-03, is planned for late July from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard another OSC "Pegasus XL" rocket.
Once in space, the same stage that carries the Celestis spacecraft and the rocket's primary payloads separate and enter Earth orbit. Neither the capsules nor the ashes ever escape into space; the capsules remain attached to the final stage. The cremated remains launched on Celestis flights will stay on orbit between 18 months and 10 years before they re-enter the atmosphere and harmlessly vaporize. At a cost of $4,800 per person, Celestis services are comparable to most conventional funeral services.
"With the 'Earthview Commemorative Spaceflight,' our Celestis mission is a secondary payload on a typical commercial space flight. Therefore, we will not contribute to orbital pollution," Chan Tysor, president of Celestis, Inc. said. "Eventually, those satellites will re-enter the atmosphere. . . blazing like a shooting star in final tribute."
A portion of the proceeds -- including the Encounter 2001 project -- goes to the Celestis Foundation which contributes to entrepreneurial space enterprises, educational organizations, and other charities which promote a positive future on Earth.
For a video replay of the previous Celestis "Founders' Flight" and "Celestis-02" launches, point your Internet web browser to:
More information on Celestis and Encounter 2001 is available from Celestis, Inc. at 1 (800) ORBIT-11.