Astronaut Brings Ashes and Photos of 9/11 Victim to Space to Fulfill Lifelong Dream

Chad Keller always dreamed of going to space, but tragically lost his life on 9/11 when his plane crashed into the Pentagon. Chris Cassidy, a NASA astronaut, took mementos of Keller's life with him on his final spaceflight to fulfill Keller's dream.

At the young age of 6, Chandler “Chad” Keller already knew that he wanted to be an astronaut. Unfortunately, “his eyes were kind of bad,” according to his father. So, he pursued a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder “to follow that dream.”

Chad began working with Boeing as a propulsion specialist launching communication satellites for the U.S. Department of Defense and National Reconnaissance Office. On Sept. 11, 2001, the 29-year-old had just finished a series of launch briefings at the Pentagon and was headed home to California where his wife and parents lived. He boarded the fateful American Airlines Flight 77 early that morning that looped back around and crashed into the Pentagon. 

For the past 20 years, friends and family have cared for the Kellers since they lost their son. A stranger reached out to the family a few years ago and made them a promise: they could make Chad’s dream of going to space come true.

That stranger, Chris Cassidy, was a Navy SEAL before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2004. “One of the special things about spaceflight is that NASA allows us to carry a few mementos for friends, family, loved ones and organizations that mean something to us,” Cassidy told CNN.

Ahead of his final flight to space in 2020, Cassidy reached out to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. Chad Keller was connected to the Pentagon but was featured at the museum as well, and Cassidy learned of Chad’s deep love of space.

Cassidy called Richard Keller and asked if he could take their son to space, and the Keller’s said they could not be happier to “let him ride with a guy like Chris.”

“I was just really excited to talk to Chad’s family and let them know what it meant to me to bring their family, specifically Chad, to the space station and kind of complete his journey,” Cassidy said.

When Cassidy took off to space in April 2020, he was 50 years old, the same age that Chad would be now. The Kellers watched the launch and prayed for the astronauts’ safety. 

Cassidy carried Chad’s Boeing launch pins as well as two pins from University of Colorado, his memorial service program, a photo of Chad and his wife Lisa and a letter, as well as some of his ashes. Cassidy also took a piece of steel and wrist bands carrying messages of hope from the 9/11 museum.

While in space, Cassidy captured photos of the objects he carried with him. “With each item that I pull out. I always pause for a second to think a little bit about the story to that particular item,” Cassidy said. “It’s kind of special to think about the story and the path, the journey of that object from the hands that it was in to my hands to this window.”

“It was a wonderful gift, and we appreciate it every day,” said Richard Keller.

Image source: CNN