Space smuggling: James Doohan’s ashes were snuck onto the ISS
James Doohan famously played Scotty in the original Star Trek series. Star Trek has, for decades now, been an inspiration for many to enthuse over space exploration and travel in real-life. It’s even led to a number of people pursuing careers at NASA – why else do you think we had a space shuttle named Enterprise?
According to Doohan’s son, Chris, “My dad had three passions: space, science, and trains. He always wanted to go into space”. Sadly James Doohan was never afforded the ability to see Earth from above, but apparently twelve years ago, some of his ashes were smuggled onto the International Space Station and they still reside there to this day.
Here’s the scoop on the out-of-this-world story.
About the smuggler
The man who smuggled Doohan’s ashes onto the ISS is Richard Garriott. Garriott was to be one of the first private citizens to visit space and Chris Doohan contacted him about potentially bringing his father’s ashes with him. Garriott was willing to participate, but knew it wasn’t going to be easy. For starters, he was already in his mandatory pre-flight quarantine in Kazakhstan.
Garriott’s only requirement was that the escapade remain a secret since he didn’t have permission to bring the ashes and he wasn’t sure if it’d “disrupt relations”. Chris wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to tell Star Trek fans the good news, that his father’s ashes made it to space.
In 2008 he boarded the ISS as a private astronaut as part of the Russian space program.
How he did it
Garriott created three in memoriam cards with James Doohan’s image. The cards had clearance, but the ashes didn’t. So, Garriott had the cards laminated with some ashes snuck between the layers. Garriott said, “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”.
So, the cards with a few bits of ash went into space with Garriott.
Where are the cards now?
One card was hidden under the floor of the Columbus module, where as far as anyone knows, it still resides to this day. Garriott isn’t sure that anyone has ever found it – though astronauts currently on the ISS may now be curious enough to search for it now that the cat’s out of the bag.
Another card was floated out into space which could be anywhere by this point, and the third is now with Chris Doohan, framed, given a plaque, and adorned with a necklace that has a vial of James Doohan’s ashes.
The ISS card has travelled nearly 1.7 billion miles while it has orbited Earth over 70,000 times.
I have been keeping a secret for over 12 years. Finally, I’ve been told that I can tell everyone soon. Stay tuned. #startrek
— Chris Doohan (@ChrisDoohan) December 19, 2020
How we found out
On December 19th Chris Doohan tweeted that he’d been keeping a secret, but would soon be able to tell everyone. Then, on Christmas day he tweeted a link to an article detailing the whole space smuggling adventure.
Doohan was never sure he’d be able to tell the world, but admitted, “I visit fan conventions all around the world . . . It was hard not sharing this with fans.” He followed up saying, “I now have a great sense of relief that I can talk about this and share this amazing story as I continue my father’s legacy.” Chris Doohan played Mr. Scott in the series Star Trek Continues and has made multiple appearances in other Star Trek shows & movies.
His father’s ashes also went to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2012, so it’s safe to say that Doohan’s ardent wish to visit the stars has been granted. 🌟