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'May the force be with you': Tampa man's remains launched into space

It was Derek Yanes lifelong goal to become an astronaut, but his dream was short-lived due to a medical condition.

TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa man with a passion for astronomy died almost three years ago, but a company that conducts memorial spaceflights is giving him the chance to achieve his lifelong dream of reaching outer space.

Derek Stephen Yanes was 46 years old when he suddenly died in 2019. He was born with a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, also known as CAH. The condition affects a child's normal growth and development. However, his sister Mellissa Teston said her brother learned to navigate life with this chronic disorder. It's something that can be treated with medication.

Yanes wasn't able to join the military or become an astronaut as he dreamed, his sister said.

"It sidelined him," she added. "He had to become an enthusiast on the sideline versus being able to participate physically." 

"As a child, our dad would take Derek to hobby shops and find the most intricate rockets to build together," Teston wrote.

His interest grew, fueling his love for aeronautics, astronomy and space. However, in 2019, Yanes died after undergoing surgery.

"His body went into Adrenal crisis," Teston said. "He wasn't receiving his stress doses of Cortisone and prednisone he needed to recover from surgery so at that point his body failed because of this condition."

His untimely death was heartbreaking for Teston and their family. Their dad had just died four months prior. The coronavirus pandemic put Yanes' burial on hold and she said it gave their family time to figure out how they could give him the proper memorial.

Through Celestis, Yanes' family was to rocket his cremated remains into space and help him achieve his goal of becoming an astronaut one day.

"So what he couldn’t do on earth, he now gets to be a heavenly astronaut," said Teston.

Celestis conducts memorial spaceflights that orbit planet Earth. Yanes' remains will launch into low Earth orbit and circle the planet for nearly a decade, Celestis says. Eventually, it will reenter the Earth's atmosphere and burst into a blaze like a shooting star giving a final tribute.

"We wanted a mission that was more than just launching into space, it had to have a purpose," Teston said. "And we learned that with an Earth orbit, then you are part of a satellite. You're part of a deeper mission and this is going to be a communications satellite. It will be in orbit for over eight years. We will get the transmission of when he is above us. He gets to be part of a mission even beyond the blast-off."

Teston said their friends were supportive of Yanes' space mission and wanted to be a part of the process. A tribute like this starts with a base cost of $5,000. From members of the community to Gasparilla Krewe members, they contributed through a GoFundMe fundraiser.

“We are honored to be chosen to provide a final journey to space as a memorial for Mr. Derek Stephen Yanes, ” Charles M. Chafer, Co-Founder and CEO of Celestis, Inc. said in a press release. “His family and friends will be able to view the lift-off from historic Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and can track his spacecraft in orbit at our website as he and all the other participants of the Ascension flight orbit Earth every 90 minutes – a fitting tribute.”

Chafer said the spaceflight memorial helps families celebrate their loved ones and connect with others. Yanes will not be flying solo. The remains of about 40 others will launch into the final frontier along with him.

The Celestis mission is also neither a threat nor does it impact the environment, Chafer said. The company designs the missions to ensure there is no orbital debris.  

Yanes' remains were launched aboard The Ascension Flight on May 25, 2022, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Ascension Flight launched into Earth orbit on the Transporter 5 mission aboard a Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle. 

The launch is made possible by OmniTeq, through SpaceX's SmallSat Rideshare program. It's the 10th launch of its kind and their 23rd overall mission since Celestis was founded in 1994.

Family members remember Yanes as the "fun-cle." He continuously quizzed his nieces and nephew on space trivia and physics and told space shuttle stories. In his honor, Yanes' family had a star named after him. It's located below Lacerta, above Andromeda and to the left of Pegasus.

While Yanes' dream was cut short by his medical condition, his family has made it possible for him to reach new heights he could only imagine.

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