Doomed Spacecraft Carrying Ashes of Notables Will Burn Up Over South Pacific on Reentry
The private Peregrine lunar lander, which launched amid fanfare last November on a mission to land on the Moon carrying symbolic cargo like the cremated remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, is set to meet a fiery end as it plunges uncontrolled back into Earth’s atmosphere today.
Built by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, the spacecraft was headed for a soft landing on the lunar surface as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to spur private sector lunar exploration. However, shortly after achieving lunar orbital insertion on January 2nd, Peregrine experienced critical guidance system failures which caused it to veer off course. With the craft tumbling and communication lost, Astrobotic and NASA attempted unsuccessfully for over a week to regain control before finally declaring Peregrine’s $108 million mission a complete loss.
With not enough fuel left to leave lunar orbit and safely return home, the doomed lander has been slowly dragged back toward Earth by gravitational forces. Peregrine is now just hours away from reentry and breakup as it plunges into the upper atmosphere at over 25,000 km/h. The craft’s fiery demise is expected between 2-3 PM EST today, January 19th, with debris falling into the South Pacific Ocean northeast of New Zealand:
**Predicted reentry corridor:**
| Location | Latitude | Longitude |
| Entry point | 30°S | 150°W |
| Exit point | 10°N | 120°W |
Ashes of Star Trek Creator, JFK to Be Destroyed
Aside from a suite of NASA science payloads destined for lunar research, Peregrine carried a more unusual manifest of symbolic human relics organized by the space memorial company Celestis – including ashes of cremated remains and DNA samples from sci-fi franchises and famous space enthusiasts. The high-profile roster of symbolic “passengers” lost aboard Peregrine includes:
- Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry & actress wife Majel Barrett
- Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper
- Philosopher & writer Arthur C. Clarke
- Apollo 11 moonwalker teammate Michael Collins
- Seasoned NASA test pilot Robert Lawrence
- Star Trek actor James Doohan (“Scotty”)
- Renowned sci-fi authors Octavia Butler & Laurence Yep
- Geologist & polar explorer Marie Byrd Land (namesake of Antarctic landmass)
- LunaCorp founder Dennis Hope (claimed ownership of the Moon)
- unidentified Celestis client from Navajo Nation
Perhaps the highest-profile remains aboard were a small capsule of cremated bone fragments purported to be from former President John F. Kennedy. If verified, it would have marked the completion of JFK’s long-delayed lunar tribute mission as envisioned in his iconic 1962 “We choose to go the Moon” speech, in which Kennedy vowed America would land a man on the Moon and return him back safely to Earth within the decade.
Now all these symbolic “passengers” are destined to vaporize in Earth’s upper atmosphere instead of reaching the lunar surface as intended. Celestis memorial participants pay upwards of $12,500 per 1-7 gram bundle of remains sent into space. Despite likely issuing refunds, the company says the demise of this inaugural lunar memorial flight won’t stop their plans to keep offering Moon burials on future commercial lander missions.
Astrobotic Vows to Continue Commercial Moon Efforts
The loss of their debut Moon lander is a major setback for Astrobotic and the other CLPS partners. Astrobotic CEO John Thornton expressed disappointment over Peregrine’s premature end after achieving so many milestones, but reaffirmed his company’s commitment to enable ongoing access to the Moon:
“While the loss of the Peregrine lander is tragic, the lessons learned from this experience will certainly strengthen Astrobotic and the other CLPS partners working towards economical and reliable lunar transportation.”
“Our next lander, Griffin, is already deep into construction – incorporating major upgrades to guidance, avionics and redundancy systems. Astrobotic will continue working closely with NASA and the growing lunar industry to expand humanity’s permanent robotic and human presence on the Moon.”
Indeed, Astrobotic still has a NASA contract to deliver NASA instruments to Lacus Mortis, a large lunar crater, aboard their Griffin lander – currently slated for launch in 2025.
And they aren’t the only US company with imminent plans to send robotic spacecraft to the Moon. Just 2 days before Peregrine’s Earth reentry, rocket startup Firefly Aerospace announced their new Blue Ghost lander will launch on the maiden flight of their Alpha rocket in early 2024. Meanwhile, lunar transportation firm Intuitive Machines says they are on track to launch their Nova-D lander this March. That craft will carry 5 NASA payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a vast lunar mare.
So while Peregrine’s crash landing in the Earth’s atmosphere instead of the Moon’s surface caps a disappointing first attempt, Astrobotic and other ambitious startups remain staunchly committed to establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon within this decade. The fiery loss of Peregrine’s quirky manifest of symbolic relics and remains will serve as just another stepping stone paving the road back to lunar exploration.
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