The Final Frontier: A Tax Break for Burial in Space

By :: December 13th, 2011

Just when you thought you’ve heard it all, the Virginia General Assembly is about to consider a bill that would provide a tax subsidy to encourage people to be buried in space. Is buried the right verb?

Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore has proposed a deduction of up to $8,000 for people who agree to have their remains shot into orbit. But there is a catch—two actually. You’ll need to rocket off from a spaceport on Wallops Island, VA and it is a limited time only offer that is supposed to expire in 2020.

Like so many federal tax breaks, it is possible this one could get extended--unlike the lives of those whose ashes would get a tax-deductible ride to space. 

This would seem to be a joke, but it is not. Del. Kilgore is not talking (good choice--I wouldn’t either), but J. Jack Kennedy, a member of the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority’s board of directors, was quoted by as saying, “This is about business and job opportunities.”  

Of course it is.

It turns out that Virginia is in something of a space race with Florida, New Mexico, and California—all of which have their own spaceports. And with Congress slashing NASA’s budget, these facilities are, um, dying for business.  Thus, the tax break. Think of it as something like the idiotic zero-sum game between states over where a new plant (or football stadium) gets built. Only this tax battle is aimed at dead people.

It is really about tourism, insists the director of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission. After all, your friends and family will probably want to see you off and they’ll spend lots of dough at local restaurants and hotels. Maybe they’ll even stop by to visit the cute ponies at Assateague Island right down the road.

One firm, Celestis Inc, advertises several memorial spaceflight services. The low-end earth rise service is just $995 but that sounds like little more than a high-tech elevator ride.  According to its Website, the trip “affordably launches a symbolic portion of cremated remains to space, and after experiencing the zero gravity environment, returns the individual flight capsules and modules back to Earth.”

I'm not so sure your remains will enjoy their time in zero gravity but your relatives do get a certificate, however.

The top of the line voyager service ($12,500) promises to shoot your ashes into deep space. Celestis is still working on the technology but will happily take your 10 percent deposit now. If you can wait ‘til next year, it could be tax deductible.

This is not the first time Kilgore has proposed tax breaks to benefit the spaceport. Back in 2008, he moved to exempt revenues from suborbital passenger ticket sales from the corporate income tax. Virginia already exempts the price of spaceflight services from its sales and use tax.

I anxiously await Florida’s counteroffer.


  1. AMTbuff  ::  2:06 pm on December 13th, 2011:

    How about if you are terminally ill and launch yourself on a trip to DIE in space? Is there an estate tax break for that? Gotta cover all the bases here!

  2. Michael Bindner  ::  4:24 pm on December 13th, 2011:

    Why retrieve the remains? Just let them really burn up on reentry. Of course, people who die that rich might be used to a bit of fire by then anyway. Amazing – however these missions will happen anyway – yet more evidence that the Death Tax is too low.

  3. K Ruffing  ::  9:36 am on December 14th, 2011:

    Thank you, Howard….I was wrestling with what to get Del. Kilgore for Christmas, but you’ve solved my problem. Obviously he needs a DVD of the 1965 classic black comedy “The Loved One,” starring Rod Steiger as embalmer Mr. Joyboy and Robert Morse as the English naif who arranges for his beloved’s remains to be blasted into space. Based on the novella by Evelyn Waugh. Um, does Mr. Kilgore appreciate satire?

  4. Vivian Darkbloom  ::  3:41 pm on December 14th, 2011:

    That base has already been covered. US citizens and lawful permanent residents (generally, green card holders) are subject to US estate tax on their estate regardless of their place of residence at the time of death. And, despite the oft-used colloquial expression that this applies to one’s “worldwide” estate, 26 USC 2031 refers to the property of the decdent “wherever situated” (which would include anything brought along for the trip to outer space). And, we don’t yet have any estate tax treaties with outer space.

  5. Kaylah Deem  ::  10:18 pm on February 4th, 2012:

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