After years of playing spacefaring engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on various iterations of Star Trek, actor James Doohan had a wish upon his death: That his ashes would one day go to space. In 2007, two years after the actor's death, he almost got his wish when a portion of his remains flew on a suborbital rocket. In 2008 another portion of ashes was supposed to enter orbit over the Earth, but the rocket that was carrying them failed, and that was seemingly the end of Doohan's real-life space saga.
Unless, of course, you're one of the handful of people who knew that Doohan's ashes have been orbiting the Earth onboard the International Space Station for the last 12 years.
Over the Christmas holiday, the Times of London ran the unlikely story of how Doohan's ashes wound up on the ISS, courtesy of his son Chris and legendary Ultima game designer Richard Garriott. According to Garriott, who flew a private mission to the ISS in 2008, the story was a very "clandestine" affair due to spaceflight procedures and policies, but now than more than a decade has passed with Doohan's ashes spinning around the Earth, he and Chris Doohan felt comfortable sharing how it all happened.
“His family were very pleased that the ashes made it up there but we were all disappointed we didn’t get to talk about it publicly for so long. Now enough time has passed that we can,” Garriott said.
According to Garriott, it all started when Chris Doohan called him with just days to go before his launch aboard a Soyuz capsule bound for the ISS in 2008. The game designer and adventurer was eager to fulfill the request of the science fiction legend's family, but there was an issue: All of Garriott's flight gear had to be logged and cleared by the Soyuz launch team prior to liftoff, and the ashes weren't among the cleared cargo. To make things as covert as possible, Garriott hid Doohan's ashes in a trio of laminated cards bearing the actor's name and picture, which he then tucked into his approved flight data file.
“Everything that officially goes on board is logged, inspected and bagged — there’s a process, but there was no time to put it through that process,” Garriott said.
“The concern afterwards was that it could disrupt relations because I didn’t have permission . . . so in an abundance of caution I was asked to tell the family ‘Let’s not make a big deal out of it publicly’.”
Garriott kept one of the cards and gave it to Chris Doohan, who now keeps it on the wall of his home. The game designer floated a second card out into the vacuum of space itself, and hid the third under the floor of the Columbus module aboard the International Space Station. As far as Garriott knows, it remains there to this day, orbiting the Earth, honoring Doohan's wish.
“Richard said ‘We’ve got to keep this hush hush for a little while’ and here we are 12 years later. What he did was touching — it meant so much to me, so much to my family and it would have meant so much to my dad,” Chris Doohan said.
“My dad had three passions: space, science and trains. He always wanted to go into space.”