You can go to heaven when you die, or at least to the heavens.
It will cost $3,900.
The government yesterday approved the plans of a Florida-based consortium of undertakers and engineers to orbit a kind of flying mausoleum -- visible to loved ones below -- in late 1986 or early 1987.
The Department of Transportation said the plan represents "a creative response to the president's initiative to encourage the commercial use of space."
The spacecraft would carry 10,330 lipstick-sized, titanium capsules, each containing the specially reduced ashes of a person who has been cremated.
The mausoleum would be placed in the nose cone of a privately developed rocket and fired into a circular orbit 1,900 miles above the Earth.
The orbit is planned to be stable enough to keep the remains of the departed aloft for at least 63 million years -- if not for eternity.
The approval was the first granted by the DOT's new licensing authority for commercial space activities. Jennifer Dorn, director of DOT's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, said that the "mission approval" was granted after checking the proposal with the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
All agreed that it posed no problems. The 1,900-mile-high orbit would place the spacecraft in the Van Allen radiation belts that girdle the Earth -- a region of space rarely used by other spacecraft.
The launch is expected to be carried out by Space Services Inc., a Houston firm headed by Donald K. (Deke) Slayton, one of the original Project Mercury astronauts. Slayton's company has designed a four-stage, unmanned rocket called the Conestoga 2. (The Conestoga 1 was a primitive, one-stage affair that made a successful test flight in 1982.)
The Celestis Group, a firm in Melbourne, Fla., will pay SSI $14 million to put the 300-pound cargo into orbit. Celestis will charge $3,900 per heavenly passenger.
A spokesman for Celestis said that since its plans were announced last month, the group has received hundreds of calls from people wanting to sign up.
Slayton said that he has been approached by "seven or eight" other companies wanting to set up similar businesses. One, a Texas-based concern called Starbound, has signed up on a "space-available" basis.
Others, Slayton said, are thinking of sending ashes not into orbit but into deep space, on a voyage that could last millions of years.
"We caution," said Celestis spokesman John Cherry, a Melbourne undertaker, "that we are not signing contracts directly with people. We are sending out literature to funeral homes, cemeteries and other prospective agents in the United States this week."
Cherry said the plan is for ashes of a conventionally cremated body to be sent to Celestis, which will use what he said is a secret process to reduce the volume until the remains can be packed inside a cylindrical capsule two inches long and five-eighths of an inch in diameter.
An adult's ashes usually weigh two to four pounds, but the amount in each capsule can be no more than half an ounce. The entire spacecraft, containing more than 10,000 capsules, can weigh no more than 300 pounds.
Cherry said the spacecraft would be coated with a highly reflective material so that, on a clear night, friends and relatives, with the aid of binoculars, might watch their loved ones pass overhead.