By Rikki King Herald Writer
MONROE — Bismarck may be the first police dog in space.
The dog’s ashes apparently were blasted into orbit Tuesday on the same rocket that carried the ashes of “Star Trek” actor James “Scotty” Doohan, according to Monroe police.
The privately owned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The flight was considered historic because it was the first time a commercial ship was sent to the International Space Station.
The ashes of more than 300 people, including those of a Monroe woman, made the flight.
Bismarck likely was a stowaway.
Bismarck “Biz” Von Charnock, a German shepherd, served with the Monroe Police Department for nearly a decade, until his death in 2008.
The dog’s body was cremated, and the ashes were given to his handler, now a police officer in California, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said Wednesday.
Late last week, the officer, Tom Osendorf, notified Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer that the dog’s ashes were scheduled to be aboard the rocket.
Osendorf also told the chief that a Monroe-area man who helped arrange Bismarck’s flight would be coming by the police station to drop off a commemorative patch.
“We knew that this was the son whose mom’s remains were also on the flight,” Willis said.
Celestis, Inc., the private company that contracts to place ashes on rockets, lists only humans aboard its flights, including The New Frontier Flight, which Bismarck apparently was on.
If it’s true, the company had “absolutely no knowledge” that it may have transported dog ashes, president Charles Chafer said Thursday.
The company has considered offering animal space burial services in the past, but the option isn’t currently available, said Chafer, speaking from company headquarters in Houston. Prices for Earth orbit flights start at just under $3,000 for a gram of human ashes.
“As far as I’m concerned, whoever’s saying that, we have absolutely no way to verify that they’re right,” Chafer said. “It would be a huge surprise.”
The police department was not involved in making the arrangements for Bismarck and did not pay for the service, Willis said.
Celestis charges from just under $1,000 to $12,500 depending on the service, according to the company’s website. Its first memorial spaceflight took place in 1997, with ashes from 24 people on board.
Celestis also publishes biographies of the people for whom services are purchased.
Only one person on the New Frontier Flight was listed as a Monroe resident: Cleo Morrison, also known as Cleo Bettenga. As a young woman she enjoyed some celebrity in part for her accomplishments in aviation.
Morrison’s family still lives in the Monroe area. Reached Wednesday, her son, Randy Morrison, declined to comment.
He said he was not permitted to discuss the space flight because of some kind of agreement with an unnamed party.
His mother, Cleo Morrison, was a musician, model and Powder Puff pilot, according to her Celestis biography. She also was known as an animal lover. She died in 2006, at 84.
A Monroe Monitor feature on Cleo Morrison from 1998 mentions her pet dog, Skippy, in the first sentence. She also was quoted in the Herald in 1999 reminding people in the Monroe area to watch their dogs because an event nearby was expected to include fireworks.
Families who purchase space burials are allowed to request an engraved personal message on the capsule, Chafer said.
The Redmond-based cremation company that handled Morrison’s ashes noted that her capsule message included a string of characters, ending with “BISK936”.
Those characters can be deciphered to stand for Bismarck, K-9, and the code his handler used to identify himself on the police radio.
The message honored a number of dogs in Cleo Morrison’s life, said Jill Larson, senior vice president of Smart Cremation. The company packaged the vials of ashes for space burial from an urn that Randy Morrison brought in, she said.
Cremation destroys genetic material that would identify whether ashes were from a human or animal, she said. The rest of the ashes from the urn were returned to Randy Morrison.
The cremation company contacted Randy Morrison on Thursday, and he told them no dog ashes were included in his mother’s urn, Larson said. She said she didn’t know why police had been told otherwise.
Nevertheless, Monroe police plan to place the commemorative flight patch on the wall in the station foyer, along with a plaque of Bismarck and his handler, Osendorf, Willis said.
Through Monroe police, Osendorf declined to be interviewed for this story.
The historic flight made headlines in part for the Celestis space burial’s pop-culture and Americana connections. Some of the ashes aboard belonged to actor James Doohan, famous for his role as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the chief engineer in the original “Star Trek” TV series. Doohan died in 2005.
Also aboard were ashes of L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., an original Mercury 7 astronaut who also flew in the Gemini program; JPL engineers Robert Lee Shrake and Claude “Ed” Chandler; the former head of NASA’s flight simulation training program, Robert L. Myers; and science fiction author Marj Krueger.
WWII pilots, aerospace engineers, space fans, businessmen and women, and one 11-year-old boy are also among those aboard.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.