Where no cat has gone before
If everything goes according to plan, when Steve Munt walks outside his home in Lake Oswego and gazes at the sky with his high-powered binoculars, he'll soon be able to search for a tiny speck floating off in the distance.
It won't be the speck itself that Munt will be looking for, though. It's the much tinier object nestled within the satellite that will draw his attention — the orbiting remains of Munt's beloved cat, Pikachu.
When the satellite comes overhead, Munt says, he and Pikachu's sizable contingent of fans will be able to fondly reflect on the cat's short life.
"To me that's comforting. I can look up and I can know that he's up there," Munt says. "And other people who have shared the love of Pikachu can do the same thing."
It's easy to tell that Munt would do practically anything to protect and honor his collection of cats, which was reduced to six when Pikachu recently died at the age of 7. When a veterinarian told Munt his cat Zee had kidney disease and only nine months to live, for example, Munt paid for Zee to receive stem cell therapy and acupuncture. Despite the grim prognosis, Zee remains alive to this day and enjoys an avid Twitter following of more than 12,000 fans.
Pikachu was initially a neighbor's cat, but he would frequently gravitate toward Munt's home. And when Munt and his daughters would interact with Pikachu, the cat would often touch their nose with his paw.
"It was very endearing. We would pet him and he would actually reach up to touch our noses. It was very unique," Munt says.
With more time than their neighbors to take care of Pikachu, the Munts opted to care for the cat for the last few years of his life.
"Pikachu decided where he wanted to live," Munt says.
"Pikachu wanted to live with us, and they (the neighbors) had actually acknowledged that."
But unlike Zee, Pikachu's illness proved too debilitating. The cat had contracted pancreatitis, his blood sugar had reached an alarmingly high level and it had gotten to the point where he would stare at a water fountain in Munt's home without actually drinking.
A veterinarian recommended that Pikachu be euthanized, and Munt came to agree with him.
"It was an incredibly difficult decision," Munt says. "He had already been through two hospitalizations. But this was the first day I felt he was suffering."
When Pikachu passed away in January, Munt simply told him he was a "good cat" and that he would be remembered for his elegance and affection, among other reasons.
"He was just a loving cat and an adorable cat and a very comforting cat," he says.
After Pikachu's death, though, Munt thought about other ways to honor him. The space exploration idea, he says, was largely inspired by Zee's Twitter account.
In posts on the account, Munt personifies Zee as a highly intelligent creature that uses proper grammar, is a steadfast supporter of the Oxford comma and is a quantum physicist.
"Most of these Tweets where someone is making it (so) the cat is Tweeting, they kind of make it like the cat is stupid," Munt says. "They misspell everything and the grammar isn't right. I made Zee an intelligent cat because Zee is an intelligent cat."
Pikachu often made appearances as one of Zee's apprentices. On one occasion, he was tasked with rescuing Munt's cat Mowgli, who was said to be lost in cyberspace.
"Every time Pikachu was featured on the Twitter feed, the numbers went up. I think part of it is that people are attracted to ginger cats," Munt says. "There's something majestic about him. He was different. He was special."
Munt remembered hearing about how "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry's ashes were hoisted into space and he also says he used to write software for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
So he thought: Why not honor Pikachu by sending his ashes into space?
He contacted Celestis Memorial Spaceflights to inquire about the mission.
According to its website, Cellestis "is the only company to have successfully conducted Memorial Spaceflight missions, the only company to have been selected by NASA to honor one of its scientists, and for more than two decades an iconic pioneer and global leader of the commercial space age."
Munt says Celestis told him that Pikachu's ashes will be the first cat's ashes it has sent into space, and he showed text messages that substantiate that claim. However, Cellestis didn't respond to a request for comment from The Review.
"They mainly do it for people. They've done it for dogs," Munt says. "Pikachu is the first cat."
Among Celestis' options, Munt could have had Pikachu's ashes transported to the moon, released into space or sent into space and then transported back to Earth. But Munt thought the Earth-orbit option would be most appropriate because he will have the ability to track Pikachu at any given time.
And because of the trajectory and positioning of the orbit, Pikachu will fly above every spot on the Earth's surface at some point, including Lake Oswego. The satellite will travel for an undisclosed amount of time and then re-enter the Earth's atmosphere before "burning up in entirety, blazing like a shooting star" in a final tribute, according to the Celestis website.
"I and followers can track the satellite. We can basically know where he is overhead," Munt says. "If I (buried) Pikachu in the backyard, I would know he's there. But if I put him in the sky, everyone will know he is there."
Prior to the launch, Pikachu's ashes will be kept secure in a bank safe deposit box and stored in a flight capsule. Then, Munt will attend a ceremony with other families who are sending ashes into space and watch as a rocket blasts the satellite into orbit.
The launch will take place sometime in the next 18 months, though Munt says he was told not to reveal more information about the flight.
"I can't tell anyone when it's going to be launched," Munt says. "I can tell them after it has gone up."
After Pikachu passed away, Munt says he received an outpouring of support from his Twitter followers, including a user who posted a drawing of Pikachu looking down at the Earth with a smile on his face and surrounded by a heart-strewn sky. To Munt, the picture represents the role Pikachu will continue to play in everyone's lives.
"Pikachu is a guardian angel," he says, "showering the Earth with love."
Munt says the trip will cost him about $5,000 and he has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for it. To donate to Pikachu's ascendance, visit http://www.gofundme.com/lovingPikachu.