By: Clara Moskowitz
Published: 05/22/2012 08:15 AM EDT on SPACE.com
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Scotty has finally been beamed up. The ashes of the actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the 1960s television series "Star Trek," were launched to space this morning (May 22) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The unmanned Falcon 9 blasted off at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) from here at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying the Dragon capsule filled with cargo bound for the International Space Station. Also packed aboard the rocket was a secondary payload carrying remains from 308 people, including Doohan and Mercury program astronaut Gordon Cooper, according to ABC News and Reuters.
The ashes were flown under an agreement between the spacecraft's builder, private rocket company SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif.) and Celestis, a company that books memorial spaceflights to "launch a symbolic portion of your loved one's ashes into space," according to its website.
"We had a Celestis canister on the second stage, not on Dragon," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said at a news conference after the launch. "They've actually been a customer of ours since 2005 or 2006."
The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 22, 2012.
The Falcon 9 rocket's second stage separated from the capsule nine minutes and 49 seconds into the flight, and is now orbiting on its own above Earth. The second stage will likely stay in orbit for about a year before it falls back toward the ground and is burned up during re-entry. [Photos: SpaceX's Dragon Launches to Space Station]
In addition to the human ashes, SpaceX's Falcon 9/Dragon flight launched about 1,014 pounds (460 kilograms) of cargo for the space station, including food and supplies for the crew, student-designed science experiments, computer equipment and commemorative souvenirs like mission patches and pins.
Burial in space
Celestis charges $2,995 to launch 1 gram of a person's ashes to Earth orbit. Deep space launches to the solar system start at $12,500, while suborbital flights that return to Earth begin at $995.
The human remains payload was not officially announced by SpaceX before today, although news reports publicized the inclusion of the ashes onboard Falcon 9.
"So much for our 'secret' launch," Charles Chafer, CEO of Celestis' parent company, Space Services Inc., wrote on his Facebook page Sunday (May 20). However, the payload was apparently secret enough to fool SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk.
"If they were onboard I didn't actually know that," Musk said after the liftoff. "I was focused on other things."
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches the unmanned Dragon capsule into orbit on May 22, 2012.
This isn't the first launch for Celestis.
Ashes from "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry, as well as many others, have been booked on flights by Celestis. The ashes are packed into special capsules and added as payloads on orbital and suborbital rockets.
In fact, the company tried to launch Doohan and Cooper's ashes on an earlier SpaceX flight, but the smaller Falcon 1 rocket carrying them in August 2008 failed to reach space. The company is trying again now as part of its guarantee to send another sample of a person's ashes if a rocket fails to launch the first time.
Today's SpaceX flight was the company's "largest launch event ever," according to Chafer's Facebook page.
Dragon launched Tuesday after an earlier attempt at liftoff was called off at the last second due to an engine valve problem. The issue was fixed and the vehicle had a smooth blastoff into the predawn skies here on the second try.
The Dragon capsule will become the first private spacecraft to rendezvous and berth at the International Space Station when it arrives at the orbiting lab later this week. The mission is the final test flight for SpaceX under NASA's COTS program (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services), which has funded the development of private vehicles capable of delivering cargo to the orbiting laboratory.
You can follow SPACE.com assistant managing editor Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:44 a.m., carrying the Dragon spacecraft.
The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket is seen during a time exsposure as it lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Tuesday, May 22, 2012. This launch marks the first time, a private company sends its own rocket to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this April 20, 2012 NASA/European Space Agency photo, Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, left, and American astronaut Donald Pettit await the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon supply capsule after its scheduled launch aboard the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station. Private rocket maker SpaceX aimed for a Tuesday liftoff after fixing the engine problem that caused a launch abort over the weekend. If launched Tuesday, May 22, the Dragon will reach the space station Thursday and undergo a series of practice maneuvers from more than a mile out. Then on Friday, the capsule will fly within reach of the station's 58-foot robot arm, which will snare it and berth it to the orbiting lab. The arm will be operated by astronauts Pettit,and Kuipers, two of the six station residents. (AP Photo/NASA/European Space Agency)
The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands on space launch complex 40 ready for another launch attempt at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, May 21, 2012. After an aborted attempt with a half-second remaining before liftoff last Saturday, SpaceX is set to launch early on Tuesday, May 22. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Photographers set up remote cameras to cover a launch attempt of the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket at space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, May 21, 2012. After an aborted attempt with a half-second remaining before liftoff last Saturday, SpaceX is set to launch early on Tuesday, May 22. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
TITUSVILLE, FL - MAY 22: SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft atop rocket Falcon 9 lifts off from Pad 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Titusville, Florida. The launch this morning makes SpaceX the first commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. (Photo by Roberto Gonzalez/Getty Images)
In this Nov. 16, 2011, photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Dragon capsule is lifted to be placed atop its cargo ring inside a processing hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The first commercial cargo run to the International Space Station has been delayed again for more software testing. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, was aiming for a Monday, April 30, 2012, liftoff of its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule. But on Wednesday, May 2, the California-based company announced its latest postponement and said a new launch date had not been set. (AP Photo/NASA, Kim Shiflett)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 5: Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, pauses while speaking during a news conference at the National Press Club April 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, held the news conference to announce SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket which could complete missions to the International Space Station and Moon and should be ready for use by the end of 2012. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 5: Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club April 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, held the news conference to announce SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket which could complete missions to the International Space Station and Moon and should be ready for use by the end of 2012. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama tours SpaceX launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on April 15, 2010. Obama traveled to Florida in a bid to soothe critics of his plan to scrap an over-budget Moon launch program and reshape NASA's future. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)