Of Human Remains Headed to Moon, Navajo Say No

Navajo Nation wants commercial mission to deposit remains of US presidents, others halted
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2024 12:04 PM CST
Human Remains Headed to Moon Despite Objections
This illustration provided by Astrobotic Technology depicts the Peregrine lunar lander on the surface of the moon.   (Astrobotic Technology via AP)

A space mission that will deposit a whole lot of human remains on the moon appears to be moving forward despite the Navajo Nation's objections. Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren sent a letter to NASA and the US Department of Transportation last month, requesting the mission be postponed from Monday until concerns could be addressed. He said "the moon holds a sacred position in many Indigenous cultures, including ours," and depositing human remains there "is tantamount to desecration of this sacred space." Nygren noted NASA apologized after sending geologist Eugene Shoemaker's remains to the moon in 1998 and "promised consultation with tribes before authorizing" further such missions. But as Space.com reports, "this technically is not a NASA-run mission."

Carried by United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan Centaur rocket, Astrobotic's Peregrine lander is expected to become the first private lander to touch down on the moon. It will carry scientific instruments developed by NASA "that will pave the way for future lunar exploration as part of the agency's Artemis program," per Space.com. But it will also carry time capsules, a piece of Mount Everest, as well as human DNA and cremated remains, per Gizmodo. Hair samples from former US presidents John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George Washington; remains of various Star Trek stars; and DNA from ULA CEO Tory Bruno will land on the moon through memorial spaceflights offered by companies Elysium Space and Celestis, the latter of which will also send human remains into deep space through Centaur's upper stage.

In response to Nygren's concerns, NASA said Thursday that it did not have the authority to police the payloads of private, commercial missions. The US government, which Nygren claimed had also promised to consult with tribes about such missions, did not comment, though it has reportedly formed an interagency group to review the Navajo Nation's objections. Celestis CEO and co-founder Charles Chafer feels they have no merit, however. "The regulatory process that approves space missions does not consider compliance with the tenets of any religion in the process for obvious reasons," he says in a statement, per Space.com. "Were the beliefs of the world's multitude of religions considered, it's quite likely that no missions would ever be approved." (More moon stories.)

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