DNA From Four American Presidents Is About To Be Launched Into Deep Space

Published March 1, 2023

The space burial company Celestis will include DNA from presidents George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan on their upcoming memorial flight.

Celestis Launch

NASAA crowd watches a space launch in 2009.

Four former American presidents are about to go where no president has gone before — space. Well, at least their DNA will.

The space burial company Celestis is planning to include DNA from presidents George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan on its Enterprise Flight, which is planned for this year.

According to Space.com, the company acquired authenticated hair samples from Louis Mushro, a celebrity hair collector, which they’ve kept in “a climate-controlled facility” in advance of the space flight. But the presidents aren’t the only famous passengers on Celestis’ Enterprise Flight.

The mission, which is set to fly 150 to 300 million miles into deep space and establish a solar orbit, will also carry DNA and cremated remains from a number of figures from Star Trek. According to Celestis, these include franchise creator Gene Roddenberry, as well as actors Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy), and James Doohan (Mr. Scott).

Gene Roddenberry

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesGene Roddenberry, top center, with several Star Trek actors including DeForest Kelley, second from right, who will be accompanying him into space.

So — why send the remains of American presidents and science fiction figures into space? For Celestial, it all comes down to DNA.

“In keeping with the idea that ancient DNA can tell scientists how we evolved,” Celestis explained on their site, “the DNA of these presidents can tell future civilizations that may settle in deep space more about bygone American leaders and culture, even providing a sort of evolutionary ‘map’ as to how the U.S. started (under Washington) and flourished (under later presidents including Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan).”

The company sees DNA as “data storage” and the DNA of presidents and other figures in space as a “cosmic time capsule.” They hypothesize that future civilizations could discover the DNA in outer space, and use it as a way to understand the past (our present).

John F Kennedy Giving His Moon Speech

Heritage Space/Heritage Images via Getty ImagesPresident John F. Kennedy at Rice University in 1962, where he announced: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

“Our Enterprise Flight is a historic mission by any standard,” Charles M. Chafer, Celestis co-founder and CEO, wrote in a company blog post. “The overarching goal of Celestis is to assist human expansion throughout the solar system. By adding the DNA of these American icons to Enterprise, we establish a precursor for future human missions, and add to the historical record of human exploration of deep space.”

According to their site, Celestis has launched 17 missions since 1997. It helps facilitate “memorial spaceflights” in which families can put their deceased loved ones on a mission to the stars, instead of burying them in the ground.

Ronald Reagan With Space Shuttle

Space Frontiers/Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesPresident Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan with a space shuttle. July 1982.

The company’s first-ever Enterprise Flight, which will carry DNA from presidents and science fiction figures, will launch in 2023 and plans to fly hundreds of miles into deep space, beyond the “Earth-moon system.”

The presidents and Star Trek figures are not its only passengers, however. The Enterprise flight will carry a total of 200 “flight capsules,” according to Space.com, which will contain “cremated ash remains, DNA material, personal messages and heartfelt greetings from international clients on an unforgettable voyage.”

“This flight will indeed go into the history books, and thanks to the DNA presence of historical figures, the Enterprise Flight’s story won’t just end with its entry into a solar orbit,” Celestial wrote on its site.

It’s impossible to know how the four presidents chosen for the flight would have thought about it. George Washington surely wouldn’t have imagined such a thing possible, and Dwight Eisenhower died just months before the first moon landing in 1969.

But Cold War presidents like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had one eye fixed on the stars — for them, perhaps a space flight would feel like a thrilling conclusion to their legacy.

After reading about a space burial company’s plan to send the DNA of four American presidents into space, look through these incredible images of deep space. Or, discover the strange story of the mysterious radio signal that repeats from deep space every 16 days.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.