What Is It?
Australian Aboriginal beliefs are very diverse, and as such, there are many traditional methods of dealing with corpses, such as burial, cremation, mummification and cannibalism, though the latter is hotly disputed. Probably because all the evidence has been eaten.
Exposure on raised platforms, however, was one of the more common rituals, particularly in the North. There are two main burial stages. The first is to leave the corpse on a raised platform and cover it with leaves and branches until the flesh has rotted away, a process which can take months.
Next they retrieve the bones from the platform and paint them with red ochre. The bones are then either placed in a cave until they become dust or are placed inside a hollowed out log. Or, in some cases they are carried around by relatives for up to a year, which we're guessing makes for some awkward first dates.
This is sometimes followed by a total destruction or abandonment of the deceased's property, and for a time no one is allowed to say the name of the deceased.
Dear God, Why?
Aboriginals do believe in the human soul, though they consider the soul to have two sections. The rituals are dealing with the fact that one of those parts (the ego) tends to come back and haunt the living, and as every horror movie has taught us, ghosts are dicks. The destruction of the deceased's home and refusal to acknowledge him is their way of telling the ghost to fuck off.
Now you'd think the part about carrying around the actual bones of the dead person would increase the chances of a haunting, but this is a culture that was never exposed to the movie Poltergeist and who thus does not know any better.
What Is It?
Space burial is obviously a fairly modern death ritual, unless there was some ancient, burly fellow who could throw things really fucking high. But it is no less insane, especially seeing as it costs about the equivalent of a small Eastern European nation's GDP to perform.
Yes, You can purchase your own space burial, though the cost depends on just how far out into space you want to end up. You can have your ashes sent into low orbit for a while for as low as $695, but getting a spot on a deep space Gemini Module can run up to $60,000.
Above: A $60,000 plaque that says "You're Dead and in Space."
The first one of these was performed back in 1997, from an aircraft carrying a modified Pegasus rocket, which contained ashes of 22 people (including Timothy Leary and Gene Roddenberry). The rocket blasted into orbit 11 kilometers above the Canary Islands, of all places, whereupon it will remain aloft in the heavens for eternity.
Oh, wait, no. It re-entered the atmosphere in 2002 and was immediately burned to a crisp.
Dear God, Why?
This has been a symbolic gesture for deceased who had an interest or career in space (though an expensive symbolic gesture, especially considering you still have to have the body cremated ahead of time). But in Timothy Leary's case, he actually requested it, possibly out of a simple desire to make disposal of his remains as absolutely inconvenient for the world as possible.
Though we do have to give credit to Clyde Tombaugh (the man who for 70 years successfully hoodwinked the world into believing Pluto was a real planet) because his space burial will let him go down as having traveled further than any other human. A bit of his remains were stuck aboard the New Horizons spacecraft, launched by NASA in 2006 and headed for the "planet" Pluto.
Tombaugh is somewhere around Saturn by now, and will make it to Pluto in the summer of 2015. At that point the craft will likely be intercepted by an alien life form, who will likely interpret the inclusion of a dead person's ashes as a symbolic declaration of war.
For a look at some disorders that would make you wish for the sweet embrace of a space burial, check out The 6 Most Gruesome Disorders Anyone Can Get or find out about people who decided they didn't like death no matter its trappings in 7 People Who Cheated Death (Then Kicked It in the Balls). And don't miss our look at The Worst Drinking Game Ever (NSFW).