How These Entrepreneurs Are Helping Families Celebrate Loved Ones at the Edge of Space
Posted June 20, 2018
5 min read
What would you think about the idea of memorializing a loved one 15 miles above our planet—that is, celebrating their well-lived life at the upper end of our stratosphere?
Enter Mesoloft: a company that does just that by sending and releasing a person’s ashes into near space.
From there, the winds carry the ashes, depositing them around the globe for weeks, months, and years to come.
A Futuristic Idea
So how did the team at Mesoloft get the idea of helping families honor a loved one by scattering their ashes at the so-called “edge of space”?
With a shared background in aerospace engineering and satellites, the four co-founders had all been involved with various overlapping projects dealing with weather balloons. “Two of us were in engineering school at University of Kentucky, and Chris Winfield was working with a non-profit that among other things helped teach girl scouts about STEM disciplines using weather balloon launches,” says CEO and co-founder Alex Clements.
One day, Winfield (now CFO in the company) was preparing supplies for a launch with the Girl Scouts.
He started thinking about what type of interesting offerings you could provide that involved weather balloons. He had recently seen a feature talking about how the dust from storms in the Sahara gets swept up into the upper atmosphere.
When the idea of an ash scattering hit him, the co-founders felt like it was a major opportunity. Mesoloft was born in January of 2014 and the team spent most of the first half of the year building and testing equipment. In October of 2014, they officially started offering the service to families.
For Families that Want More Personalized Options
Today, more and more families are choosing this as a uniquely memorable way to commemorate and celebrate a well-loved, well-lived life. So how does the process work?
The primary “launch site” is just outside Bend, Oregon. (They can also do the launch at other, preferred locations.)
From there, Clements explains that the balloons typically soar about 80,000 feet high into the stratosphere. That’s more than 3 times higher than the typical airline flight. “This is the upper end of the stratosphere close to the mesosphere, called near space. At this altitude, the atmosphere is more like space with a 99 percent vacuum than the atmosphere experienced on the surface of the earth.”
When the balloon reaches the proper altitude, the bottom door on the custom payload urn opens. At this point, the vacuum of space, along with gravity itself, draw the ashes out from the insert container.
From start to finish, the process takes about two hours. “And from that point on, the families can be sure that their loved one is there with them where ever they may go,” adds Clements.
A Participatory Experience
Families can also attend the “release and remember” experience and participate in the balloon launches. “If the family is able to attend the launch, we allow them to be the one to let the balloon go. It has proven to be an incredibly emotional experience for those families. The families are really truly physically letting their loved one go, one last time.”
The entire ceremony, launch, and scattering process is also recorded. The Mesoloft team uses two, high definition video recorders to record the launch from start to finish. The view is roughly 15 miles high, where the ashes are released.
This video is then given to the family, who can keep it as their memorial video. That’s been another popular part of the experience, says Clements. “We can share those videos for the families so that any family or friends who were unable to attend can feel as though they were there.”
Near-Space Celebrations of a Lifetime
Clements says the team expected that their customers would be limited to former engineers, pilots, astronomers, or possibly sci-fi fans. In reality, that’s only been a small portion of their customer base. “It’s been really eye-opening to see all of the interesting ways people have connected with what we offer,” he says.
One of the more interesting stories happened after a woman launched her husband’s ashes into the atmosphere. A few weeks later, she told the Mesoloft team how she had broken down crying on the plane heading home after the launch in Oregon.
She explained that they were bittersweet tears. As she looked out the plane window, she knew her beloved husband was with her—physically and spiritually. “She said it was just such a beautiful thing, knowing that he’d always be with her, wherever she went,” shares Clements.
Partnering with Funeral Professionals
The company is excited to partner with funeral directors looking to offer more personalized, one-of-a-kind services to families. “As we move towards ever-increasing cremation rates, [funeral directors are figuring] out how they can provide the value that the previously provided with traditional funeral services and burials,” says Clements. Near-space memorials are just one way this can happen. In the future, Clements sees more funeral homes complementing Mesoloft’s offerings as well. “As we improve our technology, we hope to be able to offer live-streaming of our ceremonies,” he says. This may mean a funeral home is able to host the memorial and provide a place for family members and loved ones to gather while they watch the ashes scatter in real-time.
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