New Kiwi company StardustME offering memorial space flights for the deceased on Elon Musk's Space-X rockets

Supplied image of the StardustME token and a rocket being launched
StardustME is now offering places on-board the Space-X rockets for January. Photo credit: Supplied

If you've ever found yourself wondering how to give a late loved one an impressive send-off, did you consider sending them to space? Probably not - but now that option is very much on the table. 

For the first time, New Zealanders are being offered the opportunity to have a loved one's ashes launched into space for a final journey, with the remains to be carried by a satellite around Earth's orbit in their memoriam. 

New Kiwi company StardustME, the brainchild of friends and co-founders Stu Potter and Geoff Lamb, is offering places on-board bombastic billionaire Elon Musk's Space-X rockets, with the first flight slated to launch from the United States in January.

A small amount of the ashes are placed into space-engineered StardustME tokens, about the size of a 50c piece, to be hosted on satellites that will orbit Earth for the lifecycle of the satellite - which can be up to a decade. The purpose-built capsules containing the ashes are carefully place in the Falcon 9 reusable Space-X rocket, with all components expertly designed by an experienced space engineer and subjected to rigorous NASA screening. After all the safety checks are complete, the rocket is ready for lift-off.

Each token is individually prepared and features the name and details of the customer's choosing; up to 18 characters in two lines of text can be engraved on the cap.

The token can then be tracked via third-party satellite tracking apps and eventually, it will return to Earth's atmosphere with the satellite, burning on re-entry and leaving no waste or residual space junk behind.

The cost for each memorial flight is just under $3000 and provides a unique way for friends and family to pay tribute to the life of their loved one, according to Potter, with the initiative aiming to change the narrative of loss from grief and mourning to celebration and commemoration.

However, there is a deadline for securing a spot on-board the Space-X rockets. Customers interested in giving their loved one an out-of-this-world send-off are required to book this month. 

As an affiliate member of the New Zealand Funeral Directors Association, StardustME is working with its members to offer the unique service to the increasing numbers of Kiwis opting for cremation over burial.

For co-founder and managing director Potter, who is of Ngāti Awa descent, the first launch will be particularly poignant. It will host the ashes of his cousin, Tristan Stewart, who died last year in Australia during COVID-19 lockdown, which heavily restricts his whānau's ability to mourn or commemorate his life. 

"The first flight will honour and celebrate my cousin's life and remember the amazing person he was," Potter said. "It is also fortuitous that the launch of StardustME coincides with our nation's changing attitudes towards how we honour our loved ones who pass, inspired through Matariki.

"At the end of the day we are made up of stardust, as nearly all the elements in the human body were made in a star, which will go on to seed the next generation of stars."

The idea for the company was originally hatched by Potter just over four years ago. He and Lamb had been stargazing while camping with their families north of Gisborne at Anaura Bay. 

"It was one of those wacky ideas that once verbalised just wouldn't go away and I knew we had to make it happen," Potter added.

To get their idea in motion required navigating both aerospace engineering and complicated international compliance protocols, with the final challenge being to gain the approval of ministerial offices and sign-off from Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash, who granted its Payload Permit on August 8.

Funeral Directors Association president Rachel Benns says the association is delighted to welcome StardustME as an affiliate.

"The reaction from many of our members has been extremely positive," she said. "While it is likely to be a niche offering initially in terms of memorialisation options, I expect it will have growing appeal reflecting the fascination and connection many people have with space and the technology that is increasing our understanding of the universe."