WASHINGTON (AFP) – Offer a personalized star for Christmas, or buy your late loved one a celestial sepulchre, a Texas company specializing in extra-terrestrial services for space lovers has a gift line that few others can match. Houston-based Space Services Inc. certainly markets its gifts out of this world. Since 1997 the company has offered the opportunity to have one’s ashes, post-cremation, delivered up into orbit for posterity. More recently, the company has offered the chance for people to single out a star have it named for whoever they like. “We are attempting to give the public around the world the opportunity to be involved in very real space missions,” said Space Services chief executive Charles Chafer. The challenge of arranging space flights for its special payload notwithstanding, the company’s space burials have taken off. It is preparing for its sixth launch in March 2006. The first launch in 1997 carried the remains of 24 men, including Gene Roddenberry the creator of the legendary television series Star Trek; 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary, and Princeton University physicist Gerard ONeill. The upcoming launch will also evoke Star Trek memories, carrying remains from the late actor James Doohan, who played the engineer on the spaceship Enterprise.

Name a Star
Shafer, who started his career developing rockets for commercial launches, explained that the company sends into space vials of people’s ashes as a secondary payload accompanying commercial launches of satellites. The ashes are then set into orbit at the same level of the satellite. The cost is not out of orbit, however. The company charges by the weight, 995 dollars for a capsule containing one gram of a person’s ashes, and up to 5,300 for seven grams, inserted into a container which resembles a lipstick tube. “We actually launch what we call a symbolic portion of cremated remains,” Chafer told AFP. “It reflects a growing trend, here in the US and around the world, of doing things with someone’s ashes that will be meaningful for that person.” More recently Space Services has come up with a new idea, to allow people to name stars, at least unofficially. The idea is that people will name stars for their loved ones as gifts. For a start, the company has listed stars in a catalogue. Customers tell the company a constellation or astrological sign that interests them, and the company officers a list of possibilities. From there the process is automated — an emailed star certificate, a photograph of the star, and other helpful information. However, the company plans to take it much further. Next year a customer will be able to look at their star by tapping into a page on the company’s website that is connected to a robot-controlled telescope in the Canary Islands. Moreover, said Chafer, the star’s name and a personal message can be launched into space on a disc carried by a commercial rocket. “People love star gifts because of the fascination with space and the romance stars represent,” said Susan Schonfeld, communications director for Space Services. “”Everybody has his own star.” “It’s a symbolic gesture. Nobody actually, officially named a star,” Chafer said. Chafer said he started his company to allow people to take part in space exploration. With his products, he said, “Not only can you do something meaningful … but you can be part of a real space mission.”

Read More

Replica
Replica
Repliee Q1 (at left in both pictures) appeared in june 10 at the 2005 World Expo in Japan, where she gestured, blinked, spoke, and even appeared to breathe. Shown with co-creator Hiroshi Ishiguru of Osaka University, the android is partially covered in skinlike silicone. Q1 is powered by a nearby air compressor, and has 31 points of articulation in its upper body. Internal sensors allow the android to react “naturally.” It can block an attempted slap, for example. But it’s the little, “unconscious” movements that give the robot its eerie verisimilitude: the slight flutter of the eyelids, the subtle rising and falling of the chest, the constant, nearly imperceptible shifting so familiar to humans. Surrounded by machines that draw portraits, swat fast-moving balls, and snake through debris, Q1 is only one of the showstoppers at the expo’s Prototype Robot Exposition, which aims to showcase Japan’s growing role in the robotics industry. But given Q1’s reported glitch-related “spasms” at the expo, it may be a while before androids are escorting tour groups or looking after children—which may be just as well. “When a robot looks too much like the real thing, it’s creepy,” Hiroshi told the Associated Press.

Read More