UPHAM, N.M. – The cremated remains of actor James Doohan, who portrayed engineer “Scotty” on “Star Trek,” and of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper soared into suborbital space Saturday aboard a rocket.
It was the first successful launch from Spaceport America, a commercial spaceport being developed in the southern New Mexico desert.
Suzan Cooper and Wende Doohan fired the rocket carrying small amounts of their husbands’ ashes, and those of about 200 others, at 8:56 a.m. local time.
“Go baby, go baby,” said Eric Knight of the commercial launch company, UP Aerospace Inc. of Farmington, Conn.
Since it was a suborbital flight, the rocket soon parachuted back to Earth, coming down at the White Sands Missile Range.
“We nailed it. We stuck the landing,” said Knight.
UP Aerospace launched the first rocket from the desert site in September, but that Spaceloft XL rocket crashed into the desert after spiraling out of control about nine seconds after liftoff. Company officials blamed the failure on a faulty fin design.
Family members paid $495 to place a few grams of their relatives’ ashes on the rocket. Celestis, a Houston company, contracted with UP to send the cremated remains into space.
Family and friends who watched the 20-foot rocket take off from about 4 miles away cheered and cried as it flew and the mission control center announced the launch was successful.
Wende Doohan, of Renton, Wash., said her husband of 30 years sought a space ride for his remains after “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry’s remains were launched in 1997. Doohan died in July 2005 at age 85.
On Saturday morning she wore a flight jacket from Doohan’s son-in-law, Air Force Reserve Chief Master Sgt. Paul Pritchard, who died this week of cancer. “He and Jimmy are together watching history,” Wende Doohan said.
Charles Chafer, chief executive of Celestis, said last month that a CD with more than 11,000 condolences and fan notes was placed on the rocket with Doohan’s remains.
The launch from the fledgling spaceport – currently a 100-foot by 25-foot concrete slab in a patch of desert more than 50 miles north of Las Cruces – keeps the New Mexico project ahead of its nearest competitor, in West Texas.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is said to be developing the spaceport north of Van Horn, Texas. Bezos’ Blue Origin is working to develop tourist space flights.
British billionaire Richard Branson also has announced plans to launch a space tourism company, which is expected to have its headquarters at the New Mexico spaceport.