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Pilot's dying wish of space travel fulfilled with memorial flight

Marjorie Dufton.png
Posted at 5:32 AM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 08:42:00-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md (WMAR) — An Annapolis man’s mother is going to space Wednesday as part of a memorial spaceflight.

“It’s a totally unique experience and probably one of the best things you could do to honor somebody,” said Michael Dufton.

When Dufton’s 92-year-old mother Marjorie died in 2020, he knew he wanted to do something big to honor her adventurous life. She got her pilots license as a teen and later became the youngest female flight instructor in the country.

“In the early 1960s, she was asked to join an evaluation group for the Mercury Space Program for women, and before she was able to participate in the group, the group was disbanded. That’s been one of her biggest regrets was never being able to get into out space,” said Dufton.

Dufton is fulfilling her dying wish Wednesday, when a symbolic portion of her cremated remains will be launched into Earth’s orbit, part of a memorial spaceflight with Celestis, Inc.

“She will orbit the Earth for about a decade and then eventually will return to Earth as a shooting star so I think just the concept of it and everything about it is pretty magical,” said Dufton.

Celestis Earth Orbit Service missions have always been engineered to avoid creating orbital debris.

Every Celestis mission brings families together from around the world to witness the launch of their loved ones on a final mission of purpose. They conduct a multi-day set of mission-related events for the Enterprise Flight, culminating with viewing the launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Ascension Flight, given its name to signify the grief, spiritualism, and fulfillment that is experienced with Celestis’ missions, is the company’s 18th mission.

“We are approaching about 2,000 participants, people who have flown on one of our missions, which I like to say is more than all the governments and private companies across the world have put into space, we’ve done symbolically,” said Charles Chafer, CEO of Celestis, Inc.

Prices vary based on how far the loved one will travel into space: reaching into suborbital space, Earth’s orbit, the Moon’s surface, and interplanetary space. Sometimes, the arrangements are made after a death, but others make the choice themselves.

“We have a pre-arrangement program where people well in advance arrange for their mission,” said Chafer.

Dufton said not only is it to honor his mother, but it's helping him too.

“It’s the final step in that grieving process. I think there is a sense of closure and just a sense of comfort knowing she’s up there,” said Dufton.

Families can track the spacecraft as participants of the Ascension flight orbit Earth every 90 minutes.