WASHINGTON -- The great unknown meets the great beyond meets tax policy.
The bill provides that the tax credit will be given to Virginia taxpayers who enter into prepaid contracts "to place the taxpayer's human cremated remains into earth or lunar orbit from a spaceport facility operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority."
The Washington Examiner reports that Virginia already has a number of incentives in place to promote its space industry:
The state already offers a slew of benefits to commercial space flight companies, including corporate income tax breaks -- so many benefits, in fact, that Florida and Virginia are now engaged in something of a space race.
"Virginia is very progressive in terms of legislation that the General Assembly has been put in place to enable space over the last three or four years. We've been kind of a model," said Billie Reed, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, who said the legislation could help the industry though he has no plans to have his own ashes launched into space.
The authority is currently spending $125 million for a new launch facility at its spaceport on Wallops Island.
Who would be interested in space burial? In a 1994 study of the commercial space market, NASA surmised that this burial option would be most appealing to science fiction fans and foreigners, primarily Buddhists from Japan who "are very receptive to innovation and have a calmer approach to death than most Westerners."
That same NASA report also projected that by 2010, we'd be enjoying space hospitals, and that by 2015, low-gravity space settlements would would house "hundreds of people," mainly retirees. Orbiting movie studios, business parks and sporting events were also not out of the question. So perhaps not all the report's predictions have come true, but 63 people from Japan were buried in space on a 2008 commercial flight. The one company offering space burials, Celestis, out of Houston, says that Japan is the company's second-biggest consumer base, outside of the United States.
The company keeps an online list of its completed flights, with touching biographies of some of the people who have been buried in space; the bios show unconventional explorers and Star Trek fans, as well as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and writer and LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary.
Currently, space burial costs anywhere from $995 to about $13,000. The NASA report found that decreasing the cost of space burial would enhance the market for that service -- and, presumably, the proposed Virginia tax credits would lead eventually to lower costs.
It's possible that before too long, then, space burial will have appeal beyond explorers, LSD enthusiasts, Japanese Buddhists and Star Trek aficionados, but also to ordinary taxpaying Virginians who can't resist a final trip through this huge and mysterious universe when combined with a good bargain.
One service offered by Celestis brings "a symbolic portion of cremated remains to space," then returns the remains to earth. Flickr photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, used under a Creative Commons license.
Celestis also offers an "Earth Orbit Service" -- a person's remains are brought into space, then released into Earth's orbit where they remain until reentering the Earth's atmosphere, "harmlessly vaporizing like a shooting star in final tribute" according to promotional materials. Flickr photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, used under a Creative Commons license.
Celestia expects to begin offering a moon burial service as soon as December 2013. Flickr photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, used under a Creative Commons license.
Celestia's "voyager service" -- launching remains into "deepest space" -- is expected to begin in 2014. Flickr photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, used under a Creative Commons license.
RELATED VIDEO: A Celestis promotional video for its space burial services.
Flickr photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, used under a Creative Commons license.