Despite Controversy, Human Remains Are Set To Fly To The Moon This Week

NASA, together with private space companies Elysium Space and Celestis, will be sending human remains to the lunar surface this month – but not everyone is on board with the idea. The Navajo Nation has heavily criticized the plan for ignoring the sacred status of the moon in many Indigenous cultures, while other commentators have said the mission highlights how commercialized space missions are getting out of hand.

The launch – called Peregrine Mission 1 (TO2-AB) – is currently scheduled for Monday, January 8, at 2:18 a.m. ET, according to NASA

Set to be the first-ever commercial robotic launch to the Moon’s surface, a giant United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket will make its maiden voyage to deliver Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon. 

All being well, the Peregrine lander will reach the lunar surface on February 23 to begin studying the Moon’s thermal properties, hydrogen abundance, magnetic fields, and radiation.

    

The robotic lander also contains payloads from two companies, Elysium Space and Celestis, that hold cremated human remains and the DNA of several people, which are intended to stay on the Moon indefinitely. 

On top of that, the mission will deliver some cryptocurrency-themed payloads, as well as a piece of Mount Everest.

If you feel like this sounds a bit gratuitous, you’re not alone. A number of people have objected to the mission on several different grounds. 

The President of the Navajo Nation, Buu Nygren, has written a formal objection to NASA and the US Department of Transportation over what he describes as a “desecration of this sacred space.” 

“It is crucial to emphasize that the Moon holds a sacred position in many Indigenous cultures, including ours. We view it as a part of our spiritual heritage, an object of reverence and respect. The act of depositing human remains and other materials, which could be perceived as discards in any other location, on the Moon is tantamount to desecration of this sacred space,” Nygren wrote, as per Native News Online. 

Nygren asked that the launch be delayed and demanded that authorities consult with the Navajo Nation before sending human remains to the moon. 

It’s worth mentioning that human remains are already on the Moon. The ashes of Gene Shoemaker, the founder of astrogeology, were carried to the Moon by the Lunar Prospector space probe in 1999, which the Navajo Nation also objected to. However, some people have taken issue with the commercial nature of this latest mission. 

Posting on the social media platform BlueSky, numerous scientists discussed how the latest mission epitomizes some of the darker sides of commercial space travel. 

“The commercial side of space exploration has become the playground of the privileged,” Rami Mandow, a radio astronomer from Australia, said in a post.

“Sending human remains to the Moon because some privileged folks want it kinda takes agency from others – inc. the many cultures in which the Moon holds significance,” Mandow added.

NASA has tried to distance itself from the controversial cargo, noting that these are private commercial payloads that they have little control over. 

“We recognize that some non-NASA commercial payloads could be a cause for concern for some communities. Those communities may not understand that these missions are commercial and they’re not US government missions,” Chris Culbert, Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said at a media briefing on Thursday, January 4.

“We don’t have the framework for telling them what they can and can’t fly,” he added. “The approval process doesn’t run through NASA for commercial missions.”

Celestis has also hit back at the criticism, arguing that no religion or culture has the right to tell others what to do when it comes to space exploration. 

“No individual religion can or should dictate whether a space mission should be approved,” Celestis CEO and co-founder Charles Chafer said in a statement sent to Space.com.

“No one, and no religion, owns the moon, and, were the beliefs of the world’s multitude of religions considered, it’s quite likely that no missions would ever be approved. Simply, we do not and never have let religious beliefs dictate humanity’s space efforts — there is not and should not be a religious test,” Chafer added.

Leave a Comment