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Ashes To Orbit; Dust To Stardust

Three dozen capsules of cremated human remains were launched into orbit late Monday for a 45-year ride in space.

The lipstick-sized containers, each holding seven ounces of cremated remains, soared into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Taurus rocket.

The tubes are expected to remain in orbit for about 45 years before the container re-enters Earth's atmosphere and burns up.

Also aboard the rocket were a $17.5 million NASA satellite, designed to measure the sunlight that reaches the Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land, and a South Korean satellite. That probe is designed to create digital elevation maps of the Asian nation, study the biology of the ocean and perform physics experiments on the effects of radiation on electronics.

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The cost of sending ashes into space is $4,800 per deceased - cheaper than Earth burial, spokeswoman Susan Schonfeld said from Houston-based Celestis Inc., which arranges the launches.

The first payload by Celestis was on April 21, 1997, when the remains of LSD-guru and 1960s pop icon Timothy Leary and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry were flung into orbit with 22 others.

Ashes from 30 people were launched into space on Oct. 3, 1998.

This time, there were cremated remains from China, Germany, Japan and the United States.

"What a magnificent view" was the epitaph for Omer Dery of Denver, who was 72 when he died of cancer on Feb. 22 and always dreamed of one day traveling into space.

"As I told the grandchildren, he'll be stardust. They really like that idea - to see the stars twinkle and think it might be Granddad," his widow, Murlene, said in her tribute posted on the Celestis Web site.


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