Few have pursued adventure the way Alex Rust did throughout his life.
The 28-year-old Seymour native sailed the globe on his famed boat Bubbles, a trip that took more than two years and was featured in the 2016 documentary “Chasing Bubbles.”
His curious spirit also led him to hike across the continent of Africa from Capetown to Cairo, and his intelligence gave him the opportunity to compete on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
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Rust, who died May 28, 2013, will continue his legacy of adventure, pursuing dreams and pushing limits, as his family recently launched some of his ashes into space.
About 20 family members, friends and fans traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida, in matching shirts June 25 to view the early morning launch of the Falcon Heavy at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The STP2 mission was conducted by Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, which purchases available room on spacecraft, installs a container and packs it with small metal capsules filled with ashes.
The flight carried satellites and other research tools before deploying Rust and 151 other people’s ashes and DNA samples into the Earth’s orbit.
“The ashes actually serve a purpose because they would have to put something on for counterweight,” Alex’s brother, Joe Rust, said.
The launch was a long time coming for Joe and his brother, Solomon, and one the whole family has anticipated since Alex’s untimely passing from complications of typhoid fever while traveling in India.
Alex had told Solomon before he set sail in January 2010 on Bubbles that if anything bad happened, he wanted his ashes to be sent into space.
“He was pretty point-blank about it and said, ‘Hey, if something happens on this trip, I want you to build a rocket in the backyard and send my ashes into space,’” Solomon said. “He was so specific about doing that.”
When Alex passed away, Solomon began researching ways to keep the promise and came across Celestis Memorial Spaceflights’ website but wasn’t exactly sure how it worked.
He discussed it with Joe, who reached out to the president of Purdue University at the time about it. The president, France Córdova, was a former NASA scientist and now serves as the director of the National Science Foundation.
“She wasn’t at first familiar with anything, but she looked into it,” Joe said. “She suggested Celestis, too, through talking within her group.”
So the family arranged to be part of a flight, but the mission kept being delayed.
It was about two and a half years after they originally scheduled to be part of the flight that it finally was able to happen.
After arriving in Florida, family, friends and fans spent a few days exploring the area and the space center. It was a historical time, as the scientific community was anticipating the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon.
The launch included all of the families, and there was a reception where any family member could speak. The Rust group will be featured with five other families in a documentary on the Smithsonian Channel.
Joe spoke and told others about how Alex was known for his adventure around the world and who tried to get the fun out of every moment.
He also did a power clap to pay tribute to Alex’s ability to bring people together. He said it was fitting Alex was part of something like the launch that brought so many together.
“When he sailed around the world, it was a constant pursuit to see who he could get to join his boat,” Joe said. “He lived his life in an inspirational way and really taught us that we all need to be pursuing our dreams as much as possible.”
When launch day came, there still were some delays.
It was scheduled for around 11:30 p.m. but didn’t happen until around 2:30 a.m. because of a hydraulic issue. The group was at the park about 7 miles away from 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. to view liftoff.
After waiting through the night, it finally was time to see the launch, which was a large, round glow of light.
“The launch was so quiet, but it was perfect because everyone was attentive,” Solomon said. “Then it was so bright that it seemed like the sun exploded in front of you and the whole night sky lit up, but everyone remained quiet.”
About 20 seconds after the launch, while the rocket was making its way up to the Earth’s atmosphere, shock waves from the force reached the crowd.
“You definitely feel it, and that’s when everyone started cheering,” Solomon said.
Then an interesting scenario occurred. Large bubbles started making their way around Alex’s group, which they took as a sign from the captain himself.
“That was really cool,” Solomon said. “There was a group in the back that we couldn’t even see who were letting off the bubbles. Pretty emotional.”
The family also was told the space mission was to study space bubbles, a solar sail satellite and more.
It also was meaningful when the popular song “Come Sail Away” by the band Styx played after the launch.
The song, which plays in the documentary about Alex’s trip, has served as an anthem for his sailing trip around the world.
It’s even more fitting now, Joe said, because the lyrics at the beginning of the song mention sailing around the world before switching to space travel. The sleeve on the single released in 1977 features a sailboat and a spaceship.
“That’s a really cool parallel,” he said.
They then watched for about an hour as they could see the rocket go at a curved shape and then return. The rocket moves so quickly that there are sonic booms when it returns.
The group was joined by one of Joe’s classmate from Seymour High School, David Schultz, who is an engineer for SpaceX and helped work on the launchpad for the rocket.
“He was with us during the launch and explained a lot to us,” Joe said. “It was so cool to have him there. After he left, he sent me a text message that my brother had circumnavigated the Earth again.”
That brought the group to the realization that Alex would circle the Earth 14 times each day, something with which they can follow along with the help of a mobile application.
Joe said it is appropriate his late brother is still seeking an adventure above Earth and in the ocean.
“He did it once, and that’s what he’s known for, and he’s continuing to do it,” he said. “We also put him in the Ganges River, which flows into the Indian Ocean, so in a way, he circulates through all the oceans, circumnavigating the waters and the skies.”
Solomon also had a strand of hair cut while at the park. He began growing a ponytail when Alex passed away and kept it as a reminder to fulfill his promise to find a way to get Alex’s ashes to space.
One cut with a scissors signified the promise had been kept.
“The main purpose was to keep the promise and not forget it,” he said.
Alex would be proud to have seen the launch and the number of people who came to experience it.
“I figured he’d slap you on the thigh, give you a head nod and say it was pretty good,” Solomon said. “There were great memories from this experience, and it was a great time.”
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“This trip was about simple discovery, venturing out to see the world and the people in it. Along the way, we faced obstacles and challenges that only a trip like this could produce; and with no alternative but success, we overcame. What we found was that the world is indeed a beautiful place filled with beautiful people.”
The late Alex Rust on his sailing trip around the world on his boat Bubbles
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To view the launch of the late Alex Rust’s ashes into Earth’s orbit, visit spacex.com/webcast.
To view “Chasing Bubbles” follow this link.