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November 26, 2014

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Final frontier becomes final trip for Henderson woman’s cremains

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Steve Marcus

Frank Bower stands by an ashes wall at Palm Boulder Highway Mortuary & Cemetery in Henderson Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. After his wife Sandra Lee died in 2011, he had a portion of her ashes sent into space.

Ashes in Space

Frank Bower looks at a marker for his wife on an ashes wall at Palm Boulder Highway Mortuary & Cemetery in Henderson Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. After his wife Sandra Lee died in 2011, he had a portion of her ashes sent into space. Launch slideshow »

Sandra Lee Bower always wanted to go to space, but the retired Henderson real estate agent died in 2011 before her dream could come true.

Then began her husband’s mission to send a tiny piece of her on an astronomic journey.

“She was just fascinated by it — space was her thing,” Frank Bower said. “If she had to do it over again, she’d have been an astronaut.”

Shortly after Sandra Lee Bower died from pneumonia complications that spring, her family discovered a website for Celestis, a Houston-based service that offers flights into outer space for cremated human remains.

One year and $2,600 later, a silver vial the size of a lipstick tube carried a portion of her ashes into the Earth’s orbit along with the remains of 319 others, including a NASA astronaut and actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on Star Trek.

Since then, Davis Funeral Home in Las Vegas has begun offering Celestis’ services, which range in price from $995 to $12,500 based on the distance a vial travels and the duration of its trip.

“Nevada has the highest rate for cremation in the country, and people are always looking for unique ways for disposition,” said Todd Noecker, general manager of Davis Funeral Homes.

The state was ranked first in the nation as recently as 2012, when cremation accounted for 74 percent of all disposition methods, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Add to that a fascination with space and the unknown (think Area 51 and Las Vegas’ annual Star Trek convention), and the service is a perfect option for Nevadans, Noecker said.

Davis Funeral Home, whose two Las Vegas locations started offering Celestis flights two months ago, already provides unusual services for Las Vegans wanting to memorialize loved ones. Among them are charms, pendants and other keepsakes that hold human ashes and jewelry etched with DNA patterns and fingerprints.

“People do unique things here,” Noecker said.

Liftoff for Sandra Lee Bower's New Frontier flight was May 22, 2012, from Cape Canaveral, Fla., said Pazia Schonfeld, a spokeswoman for Celestis. After orbiting Earth 576 times, the spacecraft re-entered the planet’s atmosphere on June 26, 2012, and landed over the South China Sea.

Frank Bower kept the rest of his wife’s ashes inside an urn at Palm Mortuary off Boulder Highway in Henderson. Frank Bower's remains will one day join hers in a spot reserved for the couple marked with a photograph of their 1959 wedding day.

To memorialize his wife’s trip into space, Celestis sent a certificate and a compact disc with video of the flight’s liftoff. A file listed everyone on the flight, and a commemorative message followed Sandra Lee Bower's name:

“It was a dream come true.”

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