Christine and Jerry Mueller were happily married until Jerry was killed in a motorcycle accident. To honor his memory and his lifetime desire, Christine sent his ashes into space.
Christine and Jerry Mueller were happily married until Jerry was killed in a motorcycle accident. To honor his memory and his lifetime desire, Christine sent his ashes into space.
Jerry Mueller left on his motorcycle, but he landed in the stars.

Jerry, husband of Christine (Rubin) Mueller and son-in law of the late Fritz and Ruth Rubin of Spring Valley, always wanted to go to space.

"His prediction was that within his lifetime, ordinary men and women would have the chance to go into space, and he would love to have been the first to see the world from high above. He wanted to go fast and do it in style," related his wife.

She shared his biography on the Houston-based Celestis, Inc., memorial space launch participants' website, as he was one of 320 people honored on the company's "New Frontier Flight," which departed for orbit of Earth on May 22.

Christine continued, "His engineering skills helped in his playtime activities of working on his car and motorcycle...He was always looking to the sky, however, and that was his true wish for the ultimate trip. His favorite television shows and movies revolved around anything space-related, 'Star Trek' included. He loved to read science fiction and was impressed with the writing of Stephen Hawking. Science was his true devotion, and computer engineering, his chosen profession."

Jerry, a Chicago native and Christine, a Spring Valley High School graduate, met in Rochester when Jerry was briefly transferred from Chicago to the Rochester IBM facility. They married in 1980, moving to Austin, Texas, as part of another IBM transfer, with Chris's children, Tracy and Scott Schumacher. The couple enjoyed 19 years of exploring Texas together, becoming official Texans and taking in all that the Lone Star State had to show them.

Jerry's journey to the stars began on a mid-July afternoon in 1999, when he left home on his motorcycle for a Sunday afternoon ride on the long black roads surrounding Leander, Texas, and didn't come back as expected. Time stood still the next days as family traveled to Texas from Minnesota and Iowa to be with Chris, Tracy and Scott. A memorial service was held then, but Chris was determined to do something more for the man who, at 44, had still dreamt of being a private citizen in space, if not a member of NASA's exploration crews.

That's when she found Celestis, Inc., one morning, and the 12-year quest to send Jerry's ashes into the wild blue galaxy became a possible reality.

Chris said, "I found them on CBS Sunday morning one day in 2000, about a year after Jerry's death. I was very, very excited!"

The Celestis website relates, "The process is simple and completed with the utmost respect and care."

The company contracts for the cremated ashes of individuals, riding as secondary payloads, to be included on a craft being sent up for other purposes. Families may choose to have a portion of cremated remains placed inside a capsule, a one-gram, small permanently sealed individual flight container, or a larger module, a seven-gram container the size of a lipstick tube. The containers are then loaded into a Celestis spacecraft and attached to the launch vehicle.

Families come together and share memories of the participants' lives at the pre-launch memorial service and witness the launch, after which they receive a keepsake DVD of their memorial and the launch, and the biographies of participants are placed on the Celestis website.

"On launch day, families gather at the liftoff site to share the experience of seeing their loved ones' dreams of spaceflight realized." The launch marks its liftoff "with a roar and a fiery streak," taking participants beyond the stars to the solitude of space, the website explains.

Celestis offers four different launch services, beginning with "Earth Rise," in which a "symbolic portion of cremated remains" is sent to space, and "after experiencing the zero gravity environment, returns the individual flight capsules and modules back to Earth. After a successful flight, the Earth Rise payload, including flown flight capsules and modules, is recovered, validated as having reached space, and the capsule or module is returned to the family or loved one as a keepsake."

The company's "Earth Orbit" service "affordably launches a symbolic portion of cremated remains into space aboard Celestis spacecraft. "Your loved one will venture into the final frontier as part of a real space mission, riding alongside a commercial or scientific satellite. The Celestis spacecraft is placed in Earth orbit where it remains until it reenters the atmosphere, harmlessly vaporizing like a shooting star in final tribute." The spacecraft will remain in orbit between 10 years to 240 years, and specific launch information is provided to families after the launch occurs and the craft completes one successful orbit of Earth.

Celestis has plans to send capsules and modules to the surface of the moon as part of its "Luna Service," for a uniquely compelling location to remember a special life.

Finally, "Voyager Service launches your loved one on a voyage through deepest space, leaving the Earth-moon system on a permanent celestial journey." The service "truly offers an opportunity to be at one with the cosmos, on a mission of exploration and discovery."

Celestis CEO Charles Chafer stated in a press release, "The celebrities and everyday people who participate in our various missions all shared in the dream of exploring the great unknown. With Celestis, the dream of spaceflight, and the desire to take part in the opening of the space frontier can be realized - and is available to everyone."

Chris, Tracy and Scott traveled to California in 2001 to witness an Earth Orbit flight, "right after 9/11, when planes were first released to fly again, and saw that launch." "Unfortunately, it ended up not making orbit and fell into the Indian Ocean."

Another flight - an Earth Rise flight - sent his ashes up in April 2007 from a launch based in New Mexico, but Chris decided that her mission wasn't quite finished, and ultimately persevered to have her husband sent to space since Celestis guarantees its flights.

And on the "New Frontier Flight," sent up May 22, he joined 319 other mission participants, including Mercury Seven NASA astronaut L. Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan, who played "Mr. Scott," and hundreds of people from various walks of life in the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, India, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, France, South Africa and Russia. There are currently two other Celestis satellites orbiting Earth.

Now married and divorced since Jerry's death, Chris is living in New Braunfels, Texas, and coming to terms with his departure as she watches the night sky for the glow of one of the three satellites, which she can also track online.

"I missed this launch, the real one. It was a letdown to come home after the California trip, but after the launch was successful this time, I felt that I had finally achieved closure in Jerry's death," she stated. "It feels like an amazing accomplishment to have done this for him. He always was interested in space and had wanted to work with NASA but was not able to. If he had known about this program, he would have been very excited...I think he danced with God when he finally got to make orbit because he was so excited!"

As a final chapter in this story, Chris drove to Houston to the Celestis offices in early June and spoke with staff who assisted with the arrangements for the flight. "I had lunch with Christiana Chol, who is so devoted to her job and the people she is helping. Charles Chafer, the company owner, is extremely educated and has the ability to make this almost-impossible task a possibility for anyone who wants to send their loved one into space. The others were all terrific also, and they deserve many kudos and 'thank yous' for all the wonderful work that they do."

She concluded, "Life is short. Cherish the people that you love. Tell them every day that you love them! I would like people to know what an amazing man Jerry was. He made great contributions to this world and to me and my family. The world lost a great man when he died. Jerry had a wonderful extended family that loved him very much; he is dearly missed by family and friends alike."

But at night, look up, as the sky is no longer Jerry Mueller's limit, but his final resting place.