The Ashes of Sci-Fi Maven Alan Clive Are Reaching Vanishing Velocity

Alan Clive’s world turned dark in his early twenties. He never saw his children again, or the neighborhoods he lived in after leaving Detroit, or the federal agency office where he showed up and changed people’s lives.

Deep space, though? He could see it as well as anyone. Or better, really, because distant planets are the stuff of the imagination, and its own has been polished by the soaring stories of science fiction‘s greatest writers.

On Wednesday afternoon, Clive escaped the surly bonds of Earth’s atmosphere and experienced space for himself. Some of his ashes did, anyway, and his son is as certain as gravity that he’s relishing the ride.

“I’m thrilled for him,” said Michael Clive, 37. “I’m sure he loves it.”

A gram or two of what had been the remarkable Alan Clive was packed as cargo aboard an Orbitech satellite lifted through the clouds by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Imagine a cylinder the width of a roll of quarters housed in a rectangle the size of a microwave oven, orbiting north-south for about 10 years, traversing every point on Earth as the planet rotates beneath it.

Michael and the rest of Alan’s family were in Cocoa Beach, Florida for takeoff, watching what had once seemed like fantasy.

They had thought, he said, of the books that had been a centerpiece of Alan’s life and had become their own soundtrack.

Robert Heinlein. Ray Bradbury. Isaac Asimov. Alan Clive read every classic author and a lesser meteor shower until the unfortunate genetics and clumsy techniques of early surgeries left his retinas permanently detached.

All he did after that was earn a doctorate. of Michigan, become a history teacher, write a book about Michigan during World War II, and take a detour through a 23-year career at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s civil rights office, ensuring that people with disabilities receive the same support as everyone else during natural disasters.

And, of course, it continued to absorb sci-fi, mostly thanks to an early home scanner machine that read aloud in a metallic voice that sounded like a B-movie robot.

In Alan’s last moments in 2008, Michael and his sister Misha read him one of his favorites from elementary school, a 1952 juvenile novel called “Stairway to Danger”.

They thought the familiar story might ease the transition for him, Michael said. It surely smoothed theirs.

Flying freight for a first class fare

The CPOD, PTD-3, CENTAURI-5 and CICERO-2 satellites are fully integrated and ready to launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 in support of the Transporter-5 mission.

Alan’s journey into space was more of a free enterprise than Starship Enterprise.

After he died at 64 from prostate cancer, his children contracted with a company called Celestis to place some of their father’s ashes on the moon, a service that today starts at $12,500.

Plans for the Vulcan Centaur rocket that was supposed to carry the payload from a company called United Launch Alliance were announced in 2014, but it has yet to enter service. Michael had filed a deposit in 2012, and after waiting a decade, Celestis suggested redirecting some of Alan’s remains to the less ambitious expedition.

He and Misha, 40, thought it was okay. At 2:35 p.m. Wednesday, it looked and sounded spectacular.

The rocket is nearly 230 feet tall, “but we could make it out on the horizon from about 10 miles away,” Michael said. “Then after those engines fired, you couldn’t see anything in the world but that rocket. It’s the brightest thing you’ve ever seen in your life.

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The second stage continued to go into space, with its payload of small satellites and the ashes of 47 people. The first stage turned around and came home. Upon landing, a sonic boom shook the landscape.

You couldn’t have written it better.

A distinctive journey

Alan Clive grew up West of Palmer Park at 14425 Curtis St. in Detroit. His children were born near DC, but they know the address because their father stamped it in the books he particularly treasured.

Bloomfield Township’s Judy Goldwasser, who went to Winship Elementary School with him and kept in loose contact over the decades, said he “beamed with brilliance and, maybe because of that and thick glasses he wore, he always seemed a little different from the rest of us.”

Yet, she said, he was open, friendly and dryly funny. “We always knew it was heading down a different path than ours,” but in the 1950s no one could have predicted that the path would include orbit.

His children shared his passion for the stars and Michael also inherited his poor vision. “I’m not blind,” he said, “because there’s better surgery now.”

A graphics manager in Castro Valley, California, he actually worked for SpaceX for a few years, although that was more by chance than ambition. Misha lives in Rockville, Maryland, and works in clean energy.

Their dad taught them about the solar system, Michael said, about the power of imagination and courage — not superhero stuff, but the everyday kind where you “repeat things you have to do over and over again to move forward. and act in the moment.”

They watched him shape his world, even though he couldn’t see it, and they have a pretty strong feeling that on Wednesday they gave him a stunning new sight.

Contact Neal Rubin at, or via Twitter at @nealrubin_fp.

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