NASA’s plans to send cremated human remains to the moon aboard an upcoming mission have sparked controversy, drawing objections from the Navajo Nation over what they say is culturally insensitive and unethical.
Navajo Nation President Requests Delay of Launch
The $150 million Peregrine Mission One, set to be launched this month by United Launch Alliance on a Vulcan Centaur rocket, involves shooting a small capsule provided by the private company Celestis Inc. into orbit around the moon. Celestis sells spaceflights for ashes, and some of the ashes of late Star Trek actor James Dooham are aboard the capsule, headed for the moon’s surface.
But Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has written NASA asking them to halt the launch, saying the plan did not take into account Native American beliefs about death and funeral practices.
“The Navajo people do not believe in the disturbance of our ancestors,” Nez wrote. “Rocket ships should not be transporting the spirits of our loved ones to the moon.”
The Navajo Nation spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and is the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. Nez said the lunar burial of cremains ignores traditions of harmony and care for relatives, even after they die, and leaves ancestors disconnected from the Earth.
Remains Destined for Lunar South Pole
The Peregrine capsule is destined for the moon’s south pole. NASA last visited the south pole in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission – no human has been back since.
Peregrine One’s goal is to verify NASA technologies for precise and soft landings ahead of plans to build a lunar base at the south pole by 2028. Administrators called it a rehearsal for “sending astronauts to Mars and beyond.” Part of the Artemis program, NASA ultimately hopes to establish a sustained human presence on and around the moon under the Artemis banner.
If successful, in addition to implanting NASA equipment, Peregrine One would also unload a tiny capsule from Celestis containing human cremains onto the lunar surface.
|1 inch x 5/8 inch
Celestis previously has conducted 18 memorial spaceflights and says its lunar service allows participants to have their ashes launched into deep space, rocketed to the lunar surface or, soon, carried into orbit around the moon.
According to its website, the company promises clients a permanent resting place that “won’t be affected by Earthly problems like overcrowding and urbanization.”
The company reportedly has at least 10 people signed up so far to have their cremains sent into space on future Peregrine missions. Costs start at $12,500 with discounts for the first 100 participants.
Navajo Coalition Decries Commodification of Ancestral Burial
A coalition of the Navajo Nation, Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Muscogee Nation and Osage Nation issued a joint statement this week denouncing the mission.
“We as Indigenous people must call out the commodification and exploitation of our ancestral burials,” the statement read. “Our ancestors’ remains should not be preyed upon by profit-seekers.”
President Nez initially asked NASA to postpone the launch pending further discussion with tribes, though it is unclear if that will happen.
“There has to be more sensitivity when it comes to launching things into space,” Nez told Native News Online, saying NASA is ignoring cultural protocols by allowing the cremains onboard.
Rocket Company Defends Mission as “Symbolic Memorial”
In response to Nez, United Launch Alliance spokeswoman Jessica Rye said the Peregrine One is more of a symbolic memorial flight.
“We sincerely appreciate that launch providers must be respectful of cultural sensibilities related to spaceflight,” Rye said in a statement. “The small Celestis payload on this mission is intended only to commemorate the memory of loved ones.”
Still, Nez said if the transportation and burial of ancestral remains is left unchecked, “it will set the precedent for other companies to commercialize ancestral remains.”
NASA Seeks Dialogue to Find Mutual Agreement
NASA leadership says they want to have thoughtful dialogue with tribal nations to find a mutually agreeable path forward regarding the cultural sensitivities surrounding placing human remains of loved ones on commercial flights to the moon.
“Our goal has always been to advance peaceful and scientific exploration of the moon for the benefit of all humanity,” NASA’s statement read. “We look forward to continued discussion with the Navajo Nation and other interested parties to find a solution that honors their wishes while allowing scientific and commercial progress on the lunar surface to continue.”
In the interim, it appears NASA has no plans to halt the scheduled liftoff. Peregrine One remains set to take flight aboard a Vulcan Centaur rocket later this month. ULA and NASA have four days penciled in for launch opportunities between January 16 and January 22.
Whether other tribes and lawmakers will weigh in to demand a delay remains unseen. But for now, tensions around the mission continue to mount even as liftoff draws near.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.