A boy's childhood dream to visit space, and a sister determined to help it happen

MONTREAL – The people who loved Daniel Charles Hamer were determined not to let tragedy erase a little boy’s dream to travel to outer space.

As a child, the Albertan would watch with fascination as U.S. space shuttles zoomed beyond the boundaries of the Earth and had his bedroom transformed into a dream world.

The walls were covered with wallpaper depicting the blueprints of an American space shuttle while models of spacecraft and rockets hung from the ceiling.

His sister, Dee Robb, remembers sharing that dream as the siblings watched TV coverage of the now-retired American space shuttle fleet from their home in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“We were the shuttle generation,” she recalled in an interview.

“We were in elementary school in the early 1980s when the shuttle program was the coolest thing going.”

She recalls watching one launch in particular with her brother, who was the same age as her and was adopted by the family when he was 19 months old.

Robb has vivid memories of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, when an explosion killed seven astronauts as it took off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 28, 1986.

“I remember my brother and I sitting in the living room, both crying our eyes out,” she said.

But Hamer never finished high school.

Flying into space became an impossible dream.

After he turned to drugs he ended up living on the streets for about 20 years, Robb said.

“For someone like him, without the education and stuff, it was really just a pipe dream,” she said of space travel.

“He just had a real serious addiction he could never quite kick.”

His life came to an abrupt end on Oct. 8, 2011. He was 35.

A year ago this weekend, he became Edmonton’s 40th homicide of the year. He was struck in the head and died of blunt trauma said police, who arrived after being called to the scene of a disturbance inside an abandoned house.

“He’d been in rehab six weeks before he was killed,” Robb said.

“He was really struggling — you know sometimes life catches people and they can’t let go.”

Robb has found a way to fulfil her brother’s dream, albeit posthumously.

A small personalized capsule, the size of a lipstick case, will be sent into space before year’s end containing a portion of his ashes.

It will be one of more than dozen capsules placed inside a canister and attached to a rocket, which is tentatively scheduled to launch in November from Spaceport America, a commercial space port in New Mexico.

“I just thought it was an incredible way to honour him one more time and do something for him that he would never have been able to do for himself,” said Robb, 36, who works as a financial manager.

She says she was surprised when she found it would cost less than $1,000: “I mean it’s actually cheaper to send part of him into space than it was to cremate him.”

After being attached to the side of a rocket, the capsules are blasted into sub-orbit and then after the rocket parachutes back to Earth, they are returned to family members as keepsakes.

The voyage will be the 12th memorial spaceflight by Celestis Inc., a Houston-based company, which has been offering the service since 1997.

Hamer is among more than a dozen Canadians, from all walks of life, whose cremated remains have already been sent into space in a similar way.

A computer engineer, an insurance agent, an aviation expert and a geography professor are among those who have gone up posthumously over the years. They include people from Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto and Comox, B.C.

Among them is the late James Doohan, who played Scotty in the original “Star Trek” TV series. The Vancouver-born Doohan died on July 20, 2005. His ashes have already been shipped into space on three Celestis flights, the most recent one in May, 2012.

Doohan’s third wife, Wende, said her husband wanted to follow “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenbury, who died in 1991. A portion of Roddenbury’s ashes were first sent into space on Celestis’ debut flight in August 1997.

“After Gene was shot into space, that’s when Jimmy kind of widely announced: ‘That’s what you have to do with me, that’s where I have to go,'” she said.