Final Turn-on Lifts Timothy Leary Off
By Marlise Simons
MASPALOMAS, Canary Islands, April 21 — Toward the
end of his life, Timothy Leary talked of death as the final
trip and of outer space as the great new frontier.
Today, 10 months after “de-animating,”
as he called it, he left this planet with a blast, on his
In a new episode in space travel, not to
mention the funeral business, a rocket carrying a capsule
of his ashes and those of 23 others was launched from Grand
Canary Island off the Moroccan coast.
The remains, taken aloft in an American Pegasus rocket,
will or bit every 90 minutes for perhaps 2 years, perhaps
as many as 10.
“I can hear Timothy laughing,”
said Carol Rosin, a friend, who had accompanied the ashes
and was observing the liftoff at a Spanish tracking station.
“He would have loved to have seen this.”
Mr. Leary, who died last May after decades of surprising
and outraging Americans with his advocacy of mind expansion
through drug use, finally left this earth in auspicious
company. Also aloft in the world’s first space funeral
were fragments of Gene Roddenberry, who created the “Star
Trek” television series; Gerard O’Neill, a space
physicist, and scientists and pilots.
One vial held the remains of a Japanese-American
boy, 4, from New York, who his parents said “loved
to talk about the stars.”
The official purpose of the rocket, launched
from a Lockheed L 1011 airplane, was to put Spain’s
first satellite into space. But bolted to the rocket’s
third-stage motor was a canister containing the ashes of
the 24 people in aluminum capsules, each one engraved with
the person’s name and a commemorative phrase.
“They look like little cocaine vials, which is kind
of hysterical in Timothy’s case,” Ms. Rosin
The arrangements were made by Celestis Inc.
of Houston. For its “memorial service in space,”
Celestis charged $4,800 per vial, which includes the fare
paid to Orbital Sciences Corporation, the spacecraft’s
“We consider these the pioneers, the
members of the Founding Flight,” said Charles Chafer,
a co-owner of Celestis. “These people will open the
path for others.” Mr. Chafer, who has long been involved
with space projects, said it was unfortunate that all the
“founders,” however deeply they had been interested
in the space program, could only make their journey in death.
“That’s all that’s possible at the moment,”
he added, “until space travel becomes normal.”
And so it was that those who watched this
first-of-a-kind ritual on the site of Spain’s National
Institute for Space Technology included Spanish generals
in uniform, representatives of Celestis in dark suits, video
crews and American space technicians, one of whom pronounced
the dispatch of ashes into space “a really neat idea,
but my wife wants me in a place where she can visit me.”
Among the witnesses was also Paula Lamkin
of Louisville, Ky., whose father’s ashes were likewise
fixed to the rocket. As the spacecraft veered away from
the African coast and headed west and a voice announced
its entry into orbit, Ms. Lamkin sobbed loudly with relief,
causing some consternation among the generals.
“It has taken such a long time to get Dad into space,”
she said of her father, Omer, who died in 1985.
That year, after reading about a company that was offering
to take ashes into space, Mr. Lamkin told his daughter,
“That is what I want,” she said. But the company
“My sister and I just didn’t
know what to do,” said Ms. Lamkin, explaining that
in the meantime she had kept her father’s ashes in
a safe-deposit box. “This is it,” she smiled.
“His soul was already up there, and now I can look
up and grin.”
Ms. Rosin said she felt “honored and
awed” that she had been “able to get a portion
of Timothy into space.” In his later years, she said,
he was deeply interested not only in “inner space”
but in the heavens. He said and wrote that like it or not,
people would go into outer space and mi grate, but that
space should be re served for peaceful purposes.
“I know that’s why he called
on me, to get him into space and to get his message out,”
said Ms. Rosin, an aerospace defense executive until she
became an activist for the peaceful use of space.
“Space was one of the symbols of freedom
for him,” she recalled, de scribing a moment several
weeks be fore his death when she and Mr. Leary, by then
75 and weak with prostate cancer, were looking at the sky
and he blurted out, “Carol, I want you to get me into
space.” Ms. Rosin said she found out about Celestis
through friends at NASA.
“When Timothy learned that he would
go into space along with other pioneers,” she said,
“he was so excited he jumped up and down in his wheelchair.”
“He was also thrilled that he would not become space
junk,” said Ms. Rosin. She noted that in its promotional
video, Celestis said the rocket’s re-entry into Earth’s
atmosphere would create such friction that the vehicle would
For Mr. Leary, she said, the video reached
its high point when it showed a rocket re-entering the atmosphere
with a great burst of light. “That’s it!”
he shouted. “We are all light! We are all light-bearers
and we must shine it on others!”
The others whose remains were along on the
ride shared Mr. Leary’s interest in space, if not
all of his ideas about its uses.
Gerard O’Neill, a physicist, had wanted
his ashes scattered on a space colony, but given the long
wait, Mr. Chafer said, his relatives went with this option.
Relatives of Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991, sent his
ashes traveling on a space shuttle, but they were returned
“It struck me that all 24 on the flight
are men,” Mr. Chafer said, “yet most of the
contacts or the decisions were made by women. And in one
way or another they said that in a spiritual sense this
was a great way for their loved ones to join the universe.”