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By David Bachelor, PhD
The good news in the headlines this week is that you do not have to stop traveling just because you’re dead. The most recent entry into the deceased travel miles program is Nichelle Nichols, aka Lieutenant Uhura of the original “Star Trek.”
Saturday’s New York Times carried the headline, “Ashes of Nichelle Nichols Are Set for Journey to Deep Space.” The Times reports that Texas-based spaceflight company, Celestis, will launch a Vulcan rocket with some of Ms. Nichol’s cremains into space later this year. The article notes that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and fellow cast members James Doohan (Mr. Scott) and Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Nurse Chapel) will each have capsules containing their ashes included in the flight. On Sunday the Jakarta Post headline for this story was “‘Star Trek’ Actress Nichelle Nichols’ Ashes to Head into Solar Orbit.” The article notes that, in addition to Ms. Nichols, the cremains of 200 others “will fly on into deep space, beyond the gravitational pull of the Earth and moon and eventually enter a perpetual solar orbit.” For many of these “passengers,” this cosmic journey was part of their final request.
Back on terra firma, the online travel journal Atlas Obscura also had a story of human remains in motion. The August 25 Atlas Obscura’s headline was, “Why a 224-Year-Old Human Heart Is Touring Brazil.” The heart in question belonged to Dom Pedro I of Brazil (known in Portugal as Dom Pedro IV). Dom Pedro was responsible for Brazil’s independence in 1822. The reason his heart was recently transported from Portugal to Brazil was to take part in Brazil’s bicentenary celebrations. The article notes Dom Pedro’s heart traveled like a head of state in the passenger section of the jet, and when in Brazil, “[I]t was transported in a Rolls Royce to a ceremony in the presidential palace to meet the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.” Dom Pedro’s body was transferred permanently from Portugal to Brazil 50 years ago for the 150th anniversary of Brazil’s independence. His heart, however, is just a temporary visitor to Brazil. After the bicentenary it will return to its permanent home in Porto, Portugal. Before he died in 1835, Dom Pedro requested his heart be kept in Porto because the city meant so much to him.
In the Bible, the only people who traveled to space were still alive when they left earth (2 Kings 2:11; Luke 24:51). However, there was one man who requested that his remains make a journey long after he was dead. As Joseph lay dying, he commanded his relatives to transport his remains out of Egypt when they returned to their homeland in Israel. The Bible records, “Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Gen 50:25). When the moment came for the Israelites to return (400 years later), Joseph’s body was part of the convoy (Ex 13:19). The trip took forty years, but Joseph’s remains were finally laid to rest in the family plot in Shechem (Jos 24:32). Over three thousand years have passed, and people from all over the world still come to visit Joseph’s tomb outside Nablus (Shechem).
Joseph’s remains are done traveling, but maybe Dom Pedro’s heart will make another round-trip for the 250th anniversary celebration of Brazil’s independence. After the cremains of Nichol Nichols and her 200 compatriots are launched into orbit, Celestis has plans for future space internments. Besides the Sun, there is no telling how deep into space human remains may travel. The good news is that God had a plan for this diaspora. The Bible says, “At the time of Jesus’ coming, the trumpet will sound, and Jesus will send his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:31). This is the last journey believers will ever have to make.