The Moon Is About to Become a Graveyard

The Moon Is About to Become a Graveyard

An upcoming launch will usher in a new era of commercial payloads being dropped off to deep space destinations like the Moon. As we gain greater access to space, things are going to start getting weird.

Astrobotic’s long-awaited Peregrine lunar lander blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida this morning, carrying government and commercial payloads to the Moon. The lander is packed with a host of scientific instruments from NASA, a swarm of tiny robots from Mexico, and even a physical bitcoin, but perhaps the most bizarre payloads are the cremated remains and DNA of more than 200 people sent to the great beyond by their loved ones for an out-of-this-world memorial service.

Two different companies, Celestis and Elysium Space, are launching space memorial missions on board Peregrine. That includes DNA from legendary science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, as well as the trace cremated ashes of the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, and several members of the cast, including Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. The mission will also endearingly include longtime Star Trek fan Gloria Knowlan, a mother of eight from Vancouver who died 12 years ago, and whose family wanted pay tribute by including her remains on the flight. Hair containing DNA samples that are believed to be from George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy will also be on the flight.

The Peregrine lunar lander integrated with ULA’s Vulcan Centaur.

The Moon burial starts at $US12,500 for Celestis, while Elysium Space’s lunar memorial service costs $US11,950. Elysium is a newcomer to the space memorial business, while Celestis has flown human remains to suborbital heights 13 times before. This time, however, the company hopes its services reach beyond those of previous heights.

The companies only pack a symbolic portion of people’s cremated remains just in case things go south as it did for Celestis in May 2023 when a small suborbital rocket exploded seconds after liftoff while carrying the company’s Aurora Flight mission.

Peregrine will launch atop United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, with hopes to become the first commercial lander to touchdown on the lunar surface (given it sticks the landing planned for February) as part of a NASA-funded initiative. NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, part of the Artemis program, is meant to help private companies deliver stuff to the Moon.

That kind of commercial access to deep space means an increased ability to indulge in the type of payloads we’re able to send up there. Celestis’ and Elysium’s services are designed to help friends and family pay tribute to their loved ones. Celestis’ Enterprise Flight will send its memorial payload on a solar orbit 150 to 300 million miles in deep space beyond the orbit of Mars, while a second memorial payload, Tranquility, will journey all the way to the Moon on the Peregrine lander (the Star Trek capsules are part of the Enterprise flight and won’t be landing on the Moon). Elysium Space also wants to place its payload on the Moon with the lunar lander. A complete list of Tranquility flight participants can be found here; among the names are Mareta West, a pioneering geologist who passed away in 1998, and Indica, an emotional support dog.

It may be a touching tribute for some, but at least one group has expressed its concerns over what it sees as an irreverence, namely Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren who asked NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to delay the launch. Nygren noted that the Moon is sacred to numerous Indigenous cultures, therefore leaving human remains on it is “tantamount to desecration,” Arizona Public Radio first reported.

NASA said it was looking into the request, but as the Moon becomes more available for commercial drop-offs, it may be increasingly more difficult to control what goes up there. The bitcoin is slightly more offensive IMO.

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