Carl sagan — contact. chapter 22 — gilgamesh


IN THIS time — heralded expansively as the Dawn of a New Age — burial in space was an expensive commonplace. Commercially available and a competitive business, it appealed especially to those who, in former times, would have requested that their remains be scattered over the county of their birth, or at least the mill town from which they had extracted their first fortune. But now you could arrange for your remains to circumnavigate the Earth forever — or as close to forever as matters in the workaday world. You need only insert a short codicil in your will. Then — assuming, of course, that you have the Wherewithal — when you die and are cremated, your ashes are compressed into a tiny almost toylike bier, on which is embossed your name and your dates, a short memorial verse, and the religious symbol of your choice (choose one of three). Along with hundreds of similar miniature coffins, it is then boosted up and dumped out at an intermediate altitude, expeditiously avoiding both the crowded corridors of geosynchronous orbit and the disconcerting atmospheric drag of low-Earth orbit. Instead, your ashes triumphantly circle the planet of your birth in the midst of the Van Allen I radiation belts, a proton blizzard where no satellite in its right mind would risk going to in the first place. But ashes do not mind.
At these heights, the Earth had become enveloped in the remains of its leading citizens, and an uninstructed visitor from a distant world might rightly believe he had chanced upon some somber space-age necropolis. The hazardous location of this mortuary would explain the absence of memorial visits from grieving relatives.
S. R. Hadden, contemplating this image, had been appalled at what minor portions of immortality these deceased worthies had been willing to settle for. All their organic parts — brains, hearts, everything that distinguished them as a person — were atomized in their cremations. There isn't any of you left after cremation, he thought, just powdered bone, hardly enough even for a very advanced civilization to reconstruct you from the remains. And then, for good measure, your coffin is placed smack in the Van Alien belts, where even your ashes get slowly fried.
How much better if a few of your cells could be preserved. Real living cells, with the DNA intact. He visualized a corporation that would, for a healthy fee, freeze a little of your epithelial tissue and orbit it high — well above the Van Alien belts, maybe even higher than geosynchronous orbit. No reason to die first.

Do it now, while it's on your mind. Then, at least, alien molecular biologists — or their terrestrial counterparts of the far future — could reconstruct you, clone you, more or less from scratch. You would rub your eyes, stretch, and wake up in the year ten million. Or even if nothing was done with your remains, there would still be in existence multiple copies of your genetic instructions. You would be alive in principle. In either case it could be said that you would live forever.
But as Hadden ruminated on the matter further, this scheme also seemed too modest. Because that wasn't really you, a few cells scraped off the soles of your feet. At best they could reconstruct your physical form. But that's not the same as you. If you were really serious, you should include family photographs, a punctiliously detailed autobiography, all the books and tapes you've enjoyed, and as much else about yourself as possible. Favorite brands of after-shave lotion, for example, or diet cola.