Disconcertingly, friends driving through Spain this summer had two of their car’s tires go flat at the same moment. When the tow truck arrived, the mechanic told them the extreme heat of the pavement had actually melted their tires. OK, technically the tires-plus-scorching-pavement equation couldn’t have added up to the full 1000 degrees Fahrenheit required to liquify rubber, but apparently it reached the 250 degrees that make tires fall apart. Let’s not quibble.
My point is: the fate of those tires is yet another canary in the climate change coal mine.
Here in California, where we normally experience mild summers, thermometers seem permanently stuck in the “Are you kidding me?” range. It’s 109 today — almost twenty degrees hotter than in Seville. The governor has declared a Heat Emergency plus a Flex Alert begging us to conserve energy. I guess I’ll find out just how long I can put off doing the laundry and running the dishwasher.
Of course, lowering my household’s hygiene standards is a modest sacrifice, given what’s at stake. “Blistering heat waves have smashed temperature records around the globe this summer, scorching crops, knocking out power, fueling wildfires, buckling roads and runways,” reports MIT Tech Review. Thousands have died in Europe's heat wave. One third of Pakistan is under water. Antarctica's so-called "doomsday glacier," an ice mass the size of Florida, is hanging on by its fingernails, and if it goes, sea levels will likely rise significantly. Headlines use words like “apocalypse” and “the End Times” with alarming regularity.
So it’s small wonder some of our best and brightest (or at least richest) visionaries are trying to figure out how to get off the planet while there’s still time. The real surprise is that they’re prepared to take quite a few of us — possibly millions —into outer space with them.
The exodus isn’t happening any time soon. So far there’s a trickle of space tourism, mostly Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Off-planet hotels will likely be next, followed by colonies — and not the NASA model of a few hand-picked astronauts subsisting in domes. Musk dreams of large-scale communities serving as a second home for the human race on terraformed Mars. Can we do that yet? No. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
“We want to make life multi-planetary,” said SpaceX Director Benji Reed, “and that means putting millions of people in space.”
Some believe the first step is creating vacation playgrounds among the stars. "Eventually, going to space will just be another option people will pick for their vacation, just like going on a cruise or going to Disney World," said Tim Alatorre, senior design architect of the Von Braun Space Station. “The goal of the Gateway Foundation is to have the Von Braun operational by 2025 with 100 tourists visiting the station per week.” How realistic is that dream? A quick trip to the Gateway Spaceport website suggests they’re still in the fundraising stage, so I wouldn’t order your designer spacesuit just yet.
Naturally, Elon Musk has bigger ideas. He wants to send the first humans to Mars in 2029 and establish a self-sustaining, million-person colony there by 2050. Plans call for terraforming Mars, a tricky prospect at best on a planet whose average temperature is -82 F. Although I have to admit, being that chilly sounds more attractive than it normally would as I swelter in my non-airconditioned office today.
Galavanting around the galaxy isn’t cheap. Space tourists are currently paying $250,000 to $500,000 for a suborbital trip, one that reaches outer space briefly, without making a full orbit or reaching escape velocity. Industry insiders predict the cost of suborbital travel will drop to “just” $100,000 within the decade. Want the whole megillah? This April, SpaceX sent three billionaires up to the International Space Station for eight days in the first all-private astronaut mission. Price tag: $55 million apiece.
I don’t know about you, but $55 million ia a stretch for my vacation budget. However, I’ve discovered a more affordable alternative. Sadly you won’t get the chance to take any selfies, or enjoy the view, or brag about your trip afterwards. I’m talking about, of course, having your cremated remains fired into the cosmos. Turns out there’s a whole industry just waiting to serve your post-life travel needs. And those of your animal companions. Who knew?
For $12,500, your ashes (or your pet's) can be deposited on the moon or launched into deep space forever. They make it sound pretty romantic, with your loved ones gazing up at you in the night sky, but frankly, I wasn’t too keen on spending eternity as space debris. For $2500 your “cremains” will be shot up in a canister that’ll orbit Earth then reenter our atmosphere, where it will burn up and become a shooting star. Or space pollution, depending on how you look at it.
You can also send “a symbolic portion of cremated remains” to the moon for $7500 — about the price of the average American funeral or cremation. Of course, since they’re only sending up a smidgeon of your remains, you’ll have to pay all the other costs anyway, so if you’re looking for a frugal solution, this isn’t it.
That got me wondering about other alternatives for those who think basic burial or cremation is simply too ordinary. I’ve learned entrepreneurs are standing by with unique, outlandish, sometimes macabre memorials that’ll give your relatives something to talk about for generations. Are some of these final resting places a bit creepy? You be the judge.
German artist Heide Hatry will create your farewell portrait using paint combined with your ashes.
A suitably inscribed Memory Bear can be stuffed with your cremains.
The Bios Urn will turn your ashes into a tree someone can plant in the garden. Pine tree seeds are included.
Your beloved can get a tattoo with your ashes worked into the ink.
Your cremains can be turned into a diamond. Of course, this one’s going to set your heirs back $750 to $20,000, so it’s a big ask.
An Alabama company called Holy Smoke will insert your ashes into cartridges or shotgun shells — the perfect memento for hunters or assassins.
My personal favorite, the miniature Viking ship, is designed for burning your cremains at sea. Have your relatives start practicing now so they’re ready to shoot flaming arrows accurately when the time comes.
One thing is clear; the sky is no longer the limit when it comes to travel. You might begin your space odyssey in this lifetime, afterwards, or possibly in the form of a memento carried by a loved one honeymooning on a space station or emigrating to Mars. Or maybe this is all futuristic fantasy, on a par with the individual jet packs they thought we’d all be wearing by now. Whatever happens, I don’t think we’d better bank on outer space as the solution to our problems here on Earth. It’s up to us to solve them as best we can, and try to leave as many options as possible for those who come after us, wherever that may be.
Well that was fun!
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