A funeral option that's out of this world
A BEIJING undertaker is offering China's first space burial service, with the cheapest package starting at 5,600 yuan (S$1,200).
The ashes of the departed will be shipped to the United States and put into lipstick-size capsules, each weighing no more than 7g, according to Xu Yi, one of the founders of Biian, which literally means "the other shore".
Clients can go to the US to watch the launch, but have to pay for their own travel expenses. By downloading an app on a smartphone, they can track the location of a loved one's remains.
The price varies, depending on where the remains end up. "The 5,600 yuan package launches the ashes into orbit around the Earth for 30 to 50 weeks, before it falls into the atmospheric layer," Mr Xu said.
The most expensive package, at 75,000 yuan, will "launch the ashes on a voyage through deepest space, on a permanent celestial journey".
"The capsules will fly along an orbit; therefore it will not become space debris," said Tian Zhenqiang, a senior engineer with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.
US company Celestis holds six to eight space funerals every year, each taking about 100 capsules on their final journey.
Although the cheapest package is no more expensive than the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, Biian has not received a single client since being authorised two years ago by Celestis, which introduced memorial space flights in 1997.
Mr Xu said many inquiries were from retirees who formerly worked in the aeronautical and space technology industries, and wished to "rest in space", but no firm reservations have been made.
He thinks opposition from family members made the pensioners give up on the idea. "(The) Chinese traditionally want to keep the ashes, and not be separated from them," he said.
That has inspired some innovative firms to turn ashes into wearable accessories such as diamond rings, which have proved popular.
According to Chinese tradition, a funeral is a complicated and solemn rite. People used to make preparations for the afterlife in advance, choosing sites for their burial and preparing coffins and burial clothes. Emperors would spend decades building mausoleums for themselves at tremendous cost.
In recent years, more Chinese have become open to "green burials" such as burial at sea, especially with the encouragement of local governments.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK