Buy a ticket to space, get a tax break. That's the latest pitch from Virginia, which is trying to bolster its commercial space industry.
But there's a catch. To get the ticket -- and the tax break -- passengers have to be dead. And their remains reduced to ashes.
Legislation introduced by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, would provide a state tax credit of up to $8,000 to those who agree to have their cremated remains loaded onto a rocket and blasted into space.
The bill, which goes before the General Assembly in January, is intended to help Gov. Bob McDonnell realize his goal of making Virginia "the number one commercial space flight facility in the nation."
Virginia's commercial space industry is already worth $7.6 billion in annual economic output and created 28,000 jobs, according to McDonnell. The state ranks third in orbital launch capacity, behind only Florida and California, according to a recent report commissioned by the state.
Kilgore's bill would try to bolster that industry even more, even if it is just a small section of it.
Right now only one company in the United States does space burials on a regular basis. Houston-based Celestis bases its charges on how far into space customers want to go. For $1,000, a person's earthly remains are launched into space but return to Earth. Having one's remains sent to the moon costs $10,000. And a deep space burial is $12,500.
Celestis founder Charles Chafer said he doesn't know of any state that offers tax credits for space burial. He said the credit could help with his company's visibility, but would probably also attract competitors, as Virginia companies start to take advantage of the market opened up by the tax break.
The state already offers a slew of benefits to commercial space flight companies, including corporate income tax breaks.
"Virginia is very progressive in terms of legislation that the General Assembly has been put in place to enable space over the last three or four years. We've been kind of a model," said Billie Reed, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, who said the legislation could help the industry though he has no plans to have his own ashes launched into space.
The authority is currently spending $125 million for a new launch facility at its spaceport on Wallops Island. McDonnell last week said he would like to make the authority a full-fledged state agency.
"Now we're making this giant step into this higher tempo of operations and larger vehicles, and we just need to be able to grow administratively with it," Reed said.