First, though, he wants to send others -- 2,016 people in all, every last one of them cremated upon their deaths and enclosed in individual capsules, each the size of a computer mouse. Attached to each capsule will be a 6-foot flag, and each flag will have its own foil epitaph with the laser-engraved birth date, death date, moon burial date and hometown of the ashy occupant, as well as an inspiring message chosen by the dead or his or her loved ones. Above and beyond, perhaps, or Good-bye, cruel world.
Findlay and his partners will then launch into space a rocket carrying the 2,016 flags and one robotic lunar rover. From space, the little rover will descend to the moon's surface and travel to one of a few possible burial sites.
Findlay believes the moon's equatorial region makes the most sense for this lunar cemetery. The poles are difficult to land on and hard to see; no one goes there. A crater called Eratosthenes, near the moon's equator in an area called Sinus Aestuum, seems ideal.
"The absence of unusual geology and the fact that no previous landings have been made in this region should minimize any risk of it being considered a sensitive area," Findlay notes in his marketing materials.
When the rover reaches its destination, it will begin planting the flags in a pyramid pattern he wants to call Kirkyard Grounds. At the pyramid's forefront will be ten plots known collectively as The Guardians, in honor of those who first invested their faith and fees in Findlay's Buried on the Moon enterprise.
Back on Earth, grieving family and friends will be able to look to the sky in memory of the deceased. As technology improves, Findlay says, they will be able to find a particular marker and gaze upon its epitaph whenever the desire strikes them. In the meantime, the kind folks at Buried on the Moon will have provided them with a mountable shadow box depicting a celestial tombstone more than 200,000 miles away and a video of the rover planting their flag.
Findlay estimates the cost of launching will approach $100 million, with the rover requiring another $20 million. As a result, the price for each memorial currently hovers around $100,000. So far he has no takers.
But this is the business model set forth by Findlay, a middle-class man who lives in Shawnee with his wife and four kids and works in an office without windows, selling Casio watches and Spalding volleyballs on the Internet. All of that's fine, but Findlay is not entirely satisfied with the life he's led. He wants to be a part of great things, big things. He wants very badly to bury people on the moon.
For most of Findlay's life, the moon inspired little fascination. Like so many other people, he took it for granted. It was simply there. For him, its effects on earthly weather patterns and its place in mythology never stirred any great passion. Even in 1994, when scientists discovered the possibility that water existed in the moon's cavernous recesses -- big news for those who conceived of human settlements on the moon -- Findlay took little interest in Earth's orbital partner.
That changed one spring evening in 1997. During a particularly meditative night in his backyard, not far from all the activity along Pflumm Road, Findlay looked to the sky and decided that he would like to be buried on the moon's surface. On the tail of this thought came a considerate notion: Others should be buried there, too, if that's what they wanted.
Instead of driving to some remote, depressing graveyard, people could look toward the heavens for a reminder of their parents and grandparents.
"Imagine someday being able to read a tombstone from Earth, sitting on your back deck," Findlay says. "Maybe even be able to leave holographic flowers on Memorial Day."
At first, Findlay spoke of the idea only with his family. He got a mostly lukewarm response. Later he broached the subject with outsiders, at parties or in the stands of his daughters' softball games. "Some laughed at me," he recalls. "But I never thought it was a kooky idea. Just a bit early in most people's thinking."
Last year, Findlay officially introduced Buried on the Moon through a serene, information-packed Web site that covers everything from the 6-foot markers and lunar rover to the international laws applicable to the mission. An inspiring prompt greets visitors: You've always been different, always had different dreams. Now you're reaching the end of an extraordinary life and you are reaching out for one last great adventure. This is your chance to truly break the bonds of Earth.
These words could serve as Findlay's own epitaph when the time comes. Ten years ago, he wrote a list of 100 things he wanted to accomplish before he died. The closer he got to 100, the more unlikely his goals became; the more unlikely his goals became, the more the list began to reveal the grand, universal questions inspiring Buried on the Moon.
"Once you get up to fifty and sixty and seventy goals, you really have to drill down deep into your consciousness," Findlay says.
Among the items Findlay mined: spending a night in New York City's Central Park (even though doing so is illegal), traveling to Pluto, living to be 150 years old ("Turns out you need to live that long to accomplish 100 goals," he quips), and coming back from the dead. "They're stupid goals, and the pragmatics have a field day with them, and that's OK," he says. "But if you [make such a list], you'll know more about who you are than you can ever imagine."
Here's what Findlay learned: He has a low tolerance for the death and destruction caused by natural disasters, diseases and starvation. He'd like to see those problems wiped out. He also discovered an insatiable appetite for philosophical questions and an uncompromising belief that such questions have answers. And he has limited patience for people who have limited patience for such thoughts.
"I find the world so pragmatic and so focused that [people] don't even know they're human beings," he says. "They don't even know that they don't know. They're not aware at all that they have no idea where they are, that they're on a planet, in a universe. And I don't mean from a moon or star standpoint. I mean, What is reality? What is existence? Who are we? Like this Web site I have, it's called 3qproject.com. And the three questions are: Where were you before you were born? Why are you here? And where do you go when you die? And whenever you bring that up to somebody, they say, 'Well, you can't answer that.' And I say, 'bullshit.'"
One day, while eating soup and a sandwich at a Panera in Olathe, Findlay gestures across the room. "If you ask that person right over there about going to the moon, it's like, 'Oh, people can't go to the moon,'" he says. "But technically, it's not a problem. It's pretty much a money thing."
As he continues, a gray-haired woman glances in his direction a few times, her untamed eyebrow casting disapproval over his entire monologue.
Hearing Findlay talk about his ideas -- which he does brazenly, as if discussing a Royals losing streak -- evokes feelings ranging from discomfort to liberation. You'd think he might lower his voice when speaking about lunar cemeteries. When he doesn't, the stares from gray-haired killjoys might as well be intended for you, because you're sitting there with him. And as silly as it is to care about what anybody in a Panera thinks, it's quite possible that your neck will grow rosy in a display of embarrassment.
After a while, however, there's something inspiring about Findlay's grand questions and the way he broadcasts them with a sincerity most people shed at puberty.
It's not as if he's alone. Last summer, Findlay traveled to two events, the International Space Development Conference in Denver and the fourth annual Return to the Moon Symposium in Houston, both of which, he estimates, drew almost 100 attendees. Findlay recalls a number of encouraging encounters, including one with a couple from the Mojave Desert, both dressed in black, who assured him there would be "no problem" carrying out the logistics of Buried on the Moon.
"The people who attend space conventions are all about going to space, visiting Mars, asteroids and beyond," Findlay says. "[At Return to the Moon] there were thirty different projects that we all looked at. What's missing in that world is the money. There are bunches of guys with lots of pens in their shirt pockets [but] no marketing people. That is changing. I'm part of that change."
At both events, Findlay hung around the hotel bar and lobby late into the night, swapping theories with his peers, all of them inspired by the rare sensation of support they provided one another.
"One of the things that a dreamer must do is talk to other dreamers," Findlay explains. "Being around too many practical, reasonable people will kill you quicker than a heart attack."
Most of the year, though, Findlay eats, sleeps and works around practical, reasonable people. For months at a time, he becomes isolated by his dreams, even from his family.
It doesn't help that few people visit Findlay's Buried on the Moon Web site, which (unlike 3qproject.com) cost him $1,000 to produce. That, too, has contributed to a certain self-doubt, especially now that the calendar is about to mark a complete rotation since last year's convention and he still has no takers.
For his claims of certitude, Findlay can still be hurt by the reactions he receives. He mentions an incident at his daughter's softball game, when he made the mistake of speaking about Buried on the Moon to an acquaintance.
The guy turned into a jerk, becoming more and more dismissive as Findlay spoke. "By the time I was done, I wanted to punch him out," Findlay recalls. "Because you think you're talking to friends, and I guess I wasn't being selective about who I talked to. They ended up mocking it. And, you know, that's really hard to take."
What Findlay knows -- and what the gray-haired woman at Panera and the jerk at the ballpark probably don't know -- is that there's nothing patently ludicrous about the Buried on the Moon concept. In fact, it's already been done.
On July 31, 1999, a man named Eugene Shoemaker became the first and only man to be buried on the moon. A widely respected astrogeologist, Shoemaker had once helped prepare NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin for the Apollo 11 lunar mission. He had hoped to make the trip himself, but a medical condition and strict NASA guidelines kept Shoemaker out of space. By most accounts, he never got over that. Even after a celebrated scientific career, Shoemaker admitted feeling great regret over not having made his own trip to the moon.
Two years after Shoemaker's 1997 death in a car accident, NASA launched an unmanned spacecraft carrying a small capsule. The capsule had been provided by the Celestis Corporation, a Houston-based group that had made headlines for providing the unusual service of propelling cremains into space, most notably those of LSD guru Timothy Leary. This time, a Celestis capsule was to be deposited on the moon. Once the small spacecraft completed an eighteen-month mission in space, NASA deliberately crashed it -- along with Shoemaker -- into the moon's surface.
Attached to the capsule was a foil marker, laser-engraved with Shoemaker's name, date of birth, date of death and an inspiring message.
In death, the scientist became the first human to reach the moon in decades. Mankind had ceremoniously landed on the moon in 1969, but had then seemed to lose interest, making its last manned expedition just three years later. Now the moon is inspiring a new wave of activity, with government space programs in Japan, China, India and the fifteen-nation European Space Agency all planning visits to the moon.
"This year alone there are three moon missions scheduled to launch, a rate not seen since 1972," says moon expert Kevin Clarke, who has won awards from Scientific American and the BBC for his Web site, Inconstantmoon.com. "After thirty years of neglect following the 'Apollo fatigue' of the '70s," he says, "the moon has become a hot destination again."
Part of that has to do with scientists' discovery that water ice might exist in the moon's bowels. But part of it has to do with a surge in nongovernmental intrigue. Bolstered by technological advances, corporations have put commercial satellites in space. Now several private citizens and companies see the moon as a potential conquest in the not-too-distant future.
As in next year, when two companies plan to send spacecraft to the moon.
In California, a company called TransOrbital won approval from the U.S. Department of State to send a spacecraft into orbit later this year. The company has collected hundreds of mementos from customers -- personal messages, business cards, ashes of dead loved ones -- all of which will be crashed against the moon's surface once the spacecraft completes an image-capturing mission. "I think we're ahead of the pack in some ways," TransOrbital President Dennis Laurie tells the Pitch.
His greatest competition probably comes from LunaCorp, the Virginia-based company that paired up with gizmo retailer Radio Shack to put pop star Lance Bass aboard the Mir Space Station, an endeavor called off by the Russian government. Next year, LunaCorp will orbit a robot around the moon, collecting high-resolution, panoramic images to be used for attractions at science museums and theme parks.
And then there's Celestis, the company that put Timothy Leary in space and Eugene Shoemaker on the moon. To date, more than 100 dead people have been slung into space in Celestis capsules, all of them with personalized, laser-engraved messages such as "The force be with you," "Somewhere over the rainbow" and "So this is for you, Mom." Now, for $12,500, the company offers its customers the opportunity to crash themselves or their relatives into the moon, à la Shoemaker's NASA-guided trip. The opportunity, that is, to be buried on the moon.
The general goal of private space exploration -- as expressed, shared and cultivated by a hodgepodge of scientists, engineers, capitalists and dreamers at symposiums and conventions such as the one Findlay attended last July -- is to establish a permanent (and profitable) human presence on the moon. "As the technology becomes more and more readily accessible and costs go down, I think there is a crossover point where commercial companies can go to the moon," says Leonard David, who has written extensively on the subject for Space.com.
In the course of his research, David has attended several conventions and spoken to many moon enthusiasts. The question, he says, is not how long it will be before everyday citizens start taking vacations to the moon but at what point the moon itself will become a multipurpose space station. "I don't have any doubt that by the end of the century, it's going to be used in all sorts of ways," he says.
From a scientific standpoint alone, private-sector activity has resulted in numerous ideas that stretch from logical to mind-bending.
In both the United States and Europe, research groups are working to establish a bank of solar cells on the moon; the theory is that just a fraction of the sunlight that hits the moon each day could provide all the energy needed on Earth.
Last August, David reported, a Seattle-based group called HighLift Systems announced plans to construct a 62,000-mile "vertical railroad." Made of a material 100 times stronger than steel and one-fifth its weight, the elevator would provide a low-cost means to ship cargo and humans into space. Deriving energy from the Earth's rotation, scientists believe, such payloads would have enough momentum to reach the moon and beyond. "World-class specialists in diverse fields -- from materials science, bridge building, and aerospace technology to law, business, and financing -- contend the project is on the up-and-up," David writes.
Guiding these privately funded scientists and their starry-eyed sugar daddies is an international law that predates Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. On December 19, 1966, the United Nations adopted the "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies."
Eighteen years later, the United Nations' Office of Outer Space Affairs updated that document with a treaty specifically addressing all the moons and planets in the Earth's solar system. Article Three, for example, forbids nations from storing on the moon "any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction." Article Seven bans the introduction of "harmful materials" to the moon.
That policy could hamper a Nevada researcher who wants the U.S. government to send nuclear waste to the moon instead of to his state's Yucca Mountain. The no-nukes clause could cause headaches inside the Pentagon, too, which has already sent a lunar probe called Clementine to study the moon's military value. But the treaty does little to discourage hotels, advertisements, arcade games, energy pods and cemeteries on the moon -- all projects in various stages of development within the space industry's expanding private sector.
International law does little to prevent space and moon development, a fact that increasingly disturbs the industry's alternate universe of researchers, religious groups and everyday earthlings nauseated by the notion of commercializing and industrializing the moon. In Alaska, college professor and environmental activist Rick Steiner has urged the United Nations to limit moon exploration to peaceful scientific research.
In New Zealand, an international pagan organization has begun a grassroots campaign against individual moon prospectors and their pet projects.
"They are driven by profit, they are environmentally irresponsible and they don't take the future needs of mankind into account," says Magick founder Sally McLennan. "The moon is sacred in the Middle East, China, Aboriginal culture, Native American culture and in many other cultures and belief systems. Essentially, these projects seem ill-considered, opportunistic, shortsighted and culturally chauvinistic."
But the tide favors McLennan's opponents, a group that's losing its eccentric status with each step into the mainstream.
In April, Newsweek revealed that Amazon.com CEO and billionaire Jeff Bezos was the man and money behind Blue Origin, a Seattle research company dedicated to establishing an "enduring human presence in space." Bezos is among a handful of Internet moguls who have turned their attention and bank accounts to the space game. "All those dreamers, and others in the movement, doubt if NASA will ever attempt anything else truly inspiring in their lifetimes," writes the magazine's Brad Stone. "With the cocky self-assurance of entrepreneurs, they believe they can re-engineer rockets from the ground up, with modern information-technology systems, to accommodate spaceflight at a significantly lower cost than government bureaucrats now incur."
If Bezos and his contemporaries can cut the costs of rocket launches, they automatically boost the causes -- and the spirits -- of their lesser known and underfunded counterparts. Suddenly the major obstacle to solar cells and vertical railroads and pyramid-shaped burial grounds is substantially reduced. Not only does the price tag shrink, but public skepticism recedes. The business of moon development becomes, as Findlay says, "pretty much a money thing."
So Findlay sits in the stands of a softball game, telling a supposed friend about his dream, about the cremains, individual capsules, 6-foot flags, epitaphs inscribed on foil, rocket launches, lunar rovers, pyramid patterns and the crater Eratosthenes -- Buried on the Moon's unusual but quite possible mission.
And then Findlay wants to punch this guy out, but he doesn't, because he knows how this all sounds to the pragmatic types, the reasonable people. He also knows what this guy doesn't, which is that we're on a planet, in a universe, and guys like Jeff Bezos are at work on similar things for the same reasons.
Which doesn't necessarily make his dream any easier to realize. After all, aside from Findlay, the person talking the most about Buried on the Moon is the project's biggest critic.
Last year, Kiwi pagan organizer McLennan discovered Buried on the Moon while investigating other commercial projects. "My reaction was one of absolute horror," she says. "Mr. Findlay represents a group of people willing to manipulate the slowness of government to legislate about the moon to their financial advantage.
"I find the thought of making $100,000 per person, or thereabouts, by flying their remains and mementos into the moon in a toxic vehicle reprehensibly selfish."
Selfish maybe, but not necessarily outrageous given the costs of "traditional" funeral services. According to the AARP, the average cost of an adult funeral exceeds $5,000, and that doesn't count burial costs or the numerous other expenses (vault, hearse, flowers, obituary, headstone, monument, etc.) that can easily double that amount. Some people, such as baseball batting champion Ted Williams, now eschew the "body in a box" plan altogether, spending between $50,000 and $120,000 to be cryogenically frozen upon their deaths.
Back in Shawnee, Findlay says he's unaware of any criticism. In fact, he's unaware of any reaction at all. To date, no one has accepted Buried on the Moon's offer to become "the first person ever buried on the moon with a permanent marker." No one has volunteered to be part of his marketing or operations team, either.
As for endorsements, he has only Inconstantmoon's Clarke, who also designed the Buried on the Moon Web site (and was financially compensated for his work). "I am confident that the aims of Buried on the Moon are desirable, achievable, and being carried out in an honest, careful and responsible way," Clarke says.
Despite a lack of momentum, there is still an easygoing confidence in Findlay, a faith that things will turn out for the best. "Everyone who is in the fray creates a draft, like a bicyclist, and we ride in each other's drafts," he says. "We all together raise the level of the water, raising all our ships."
This is essentially what Findlay told the president of Celestis, Chan Tysor, when he met him at Return to the Moon IV last year in Houston. Even though Celestis is established and financed in all the ways that Findlay is not, even though the company's success could undercut Buried on the Moon, Findlay told him they were on the same team and wished him luck.
Then Findlay went on to give a disastrous presentation about private moon endeavors and the industry's need for more funding. Scheduled to speak for fifteen minutes, he stepped down after only four. He swore afterward that he would never speak in public again. Even now he shudders remembering it, calling his performance a "meltdown of humanness."
A year later, Findlay is no closer to realizing Buried on the Moon, which he initially hoped to launch in 2005. Things are happening in the space world -- big, fast and historic things that promise to do for spaceflight in the next century what the past century did for aviation. Whether Findlay can bottle some of that energy for himself remains to be seen.
Today, he rises early to stop off before work at Coffee Bay on Pflumm Road, which he loves because the management not only encourages conversation among strangers but practically demands it. Findlay is in good spirits, not closer to achieving his dream but not further away, either. He's at peace, he says, with where he stands right now. He is a fifty-year-old man on his way to work with no reason to believe he'll ever get 2,016 people to hand him $100,000 to be buried on the moon.
But somehow he shrugs that off. After all, the boundaries of time and reason don't apply to him, and he insists it will happen anyway.