A Marine Corps family will soon be sending the remains of their late son to the moon with help from a commercial space flight company that doubles as a memorial service business.
“The reason that we decided that we wanted to do this for my son is because his greatest ambition was to become a pilot in either the Navy or the Air Force and utilize that experience ... to jump into one of the space programs,” Gunnery Sgt. Scott Gallagher rold Marine Corps Times.
The Gallagher family suffered a tragic loss when 11-year-old Matthew Liam Gallagher unexpectedly passed away in May.
A gunnery sergeant with the Joint Communications Support Element at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Gunnery Sgt. Scott Gallagher enlisted in 2005 and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Okinawa, Japan.
He described the joint unit as “extremely accommodating” with giving him bereavement resources as well as time off to grieve.
“They’ve been nothing short of understanding and amazing,” he said.
The Gallagher family is one of many seeking to honor a loved one by sending their remains into space — a type of closure they soon will be able to achieve with help from a company called Celestis.
“We are touched and saddened by Matthew’s story,” Charles Chafer, CEO and co-founder of Celestis, said in a statement. “We are pleased to lend our support to his family’s call for assistance in making his memorial Space Flight a reality.”
Celestis, a subsidiary of the private space company Space Services Incorporated, launched its inaugural memorial flight in 1997 with the remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry onboard.
In total, the company has completed 18 rocket launches, with the most recent taking place in May.
In the next year, according to company President Colby Youngblood, at least four more missions are scheduled ― one to deep space, two to the moon and another that will return to Earth so families may keep the remains.
The Gallagher family created a GoFundMe account in hopes of raising enough money to send Matthew Gallagher on the upcoming Destiny Flight to the moon that will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2023. As of Friday the fundraiser already had exceed its $14,000 goal.
Some of the Celestis flight capsules are attached to satellites, like those from aerospace company OmniTeq, and orbit the Earth approximately 10 years to 25 years until they are decommissioned and re-enter the planet’s atmosphere to “burn up as a shooting star,” said Youngblood, who also is an Air Force veteran.
“Being in the Air Force you get that feeling of ‘I’m serving something more important than myself’ and that feels good. That’s what I get here,” said Youngblood, who retired as a master sergeant in 2013 after 20 years in the service.
He shared that many veterans are interested in participating on his company’s memorial space flights, and that they are offered a 10% discount.
While the flight capsules contain about one gram of the loved one’s remains, one does not need to be deceased to have a part of them leave Earth’s atmosphere with Celestis. The company offers customers the option to send a part of their DNA into space.
The Department of Commerce released a strategic plan in March on U.S. leadership in the commercial space industry, also through 2026.
“One of the things that makes the job difficult is we’re 50% commercial space, we’re 50% funeral service,” Youngblood said, noting the remains of about two to three kids are included on each space flight. “Anytime you’re in the funeral service business you’re going to have to deal with the wide demographic of folks who pass away.”
A memorial service for Matthew Gallagher was held at the end of May.
He was born on Marine base Twentynine Palms, California, according to his obituary, and also had lived in Lakeland, Florida; Grand Prairie, Texas; and Jacksonville, North Carolina.
He is survived by his parents, his younger sister and many other relatives.
“He could tell you everything about the moon’s different phases and point out the different planets in the night sky, and many constellations,” his GoFundMe said.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media