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Michigan family sends dad’s remains on final joy ride into space

From Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore, visitors watch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
January 18, 2023

Instead of the usual sendoff, the family of the late-John Hutton decided to shoot for the stars.

Hutton, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War from Florida, died last January at age 74 of pancreatic cancer. His Michigan family sent his ashes into space on the first SpaceX rocket launch of 2023 rather than arranging a traditional funeral.

After the launch, a vessel carrying his ashes after cremation entered the atmosphere and began orbiting the earth.

It is fitting that Hutton’s burial seems torn from the pages of a Ray Bradbury book because he loved science fiction and worked at the NASA, according to his daughter, Holly Hutton.

“He would absolutely love this,” Hutton said, who lives in China Township, Michigan. “He said his biggest regret in life was that he never became a pilot, and I think he would have loved to be an astronaut … so everything kind of all fits with his personality.”

John Hutton worked on computer systems his entire career but his main passion was aeronautics, Hutton said.

“At about a year … the vessel that my dad is in will come back into the Earth’s atmosphere as a shooting star,” Hutton said, referring to the reentry process that may look like a shooting star as it burns up.

Hutton used Beyond Burials to send her father’s ashes into space. The company offers several kinds of space memorials for people all over the world. Beyond Burials partners with other companies that can buy payload space on SpaceX launch vehicles. Space on the rockets is expensive, starting at $275,000 for 50 kg, so partnerships are the only way individuals can afford to memorialize their loved ones by sending them into space.

“It’s quite expensive to be a part of these missions, and we partner with companies that have multiple payloads going up,” said Beyond Burials CEO Dan Peabody.

Beyond Burials can arrange to send ashes into low Earth orbit like those of Hutton. Once the rocket reaches its orbit trajectory, it will open and “deploy the remains” into the atmosphere, Beyond Burial said. Depending on the package selected, Beyond Burial also can send ashes to the moon or out into the Milky Way, Peabody said.

Peabody started Beyond Burials just over four years ago because he wanted to help SpaceX in the group’s efforts to send humans to Mars. SpaceX is a private company founded by Elon Musk in 2002 that designs, manufactures and launches rockets and spacecraft, according to its website.

“Our services just seem to start really opening up, you know, with a lot of these space agencies … with the new space race that’s happening,” Peabody said.

SpaceX’s goal is making commercial spaceflight affordable. It was the first privately owned company to launch a rocket into the Earth’s orbit and return it to the Earth successfully, and launch and dock a crewed spacecraft at the International Space Station, according to its website.

Space burials range from $1,500 to $7,500; the option Hutton chose cost $2,500.

Hutton’s ashes were launched into space from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 3 after being delayed for almost a year. Hutton’s family had paid for the outer space burial by March 2022 but was not aware that conditions must be in order for a rocket to launch.

“My dad probably would have told me this prior to purchasing this … that every condition needs to be perfect for a launch to happen,” Hutton said. “The weather needs to be perfect, the temperature needs to be perfect … all these factors into launching a rocket that I had no idea about.”

Hutton will be able to track online where the vessel carrying her father is.

She said she’s looking forward to teaching her son about space.

“That’s what my dad did for me,” she said. “My dad was always teaching me about space … and so I just feel like that spirit of him is carrying on and we get to have him around for a little bit longer.”


(c) 2023 The Detroit News

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