Human Remains Are Headed To The Moon – Even Though Native Americans Object To It

The launch of the Peregrine moon lander, funded in part by NASA and set to carry human remains as part of commercial space funerals, faces controversy as the Navajo Nation calls for a delay. The objection is rooted in the sacred nature of the moon in Diné traditions, and the act of depositing human remains on the lunar surface is considered a desecration. The Navajo Nation President wrote to NASA and the Department of Transportation in late December, urging a delay in the launch.

The situation highlights the lack of comprehensive regulations governing commercial space activities and the uncertainties surrounding activities beyond Earth. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 governs outer space exploration, emphasizing the principle of free use. While it prohibits certain activities like placing weapons in space, it lacks specific guidelines on issues such as space funerals.

The commercial space mission, undertaken by Astrobotic with the Peregrine lander, obtained a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, the FAA’s authority is limited to ensuring compliance with international obligations, public safety, and national security. The absence of a regulatory body explicitly deciding what can be sent to the moon leaves significant gray areas.

Peregrine, if successful, could become the first private entity to achieve a gentle lunar landing. Astrobotic emphasizes compliance with planetary protection guidelines and relevant laws. The mission includes payloads from various sources, with two private companies, Celestis and Elysium Space, carrying human remains.

Celestis’s payload on Peregrine contains materials from about 70 individuals, including small ashes from cremation and DNA samples. The controversy mirrors a late 1990s incident when NASA included ashes of planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker on the Lunar Prospector, sparking objections from the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Nation’s request for consultation rather than an outright ban raises legal considerations. While forbidding certain moon missions would violate the Outer Space Treaty, the Navajo Nation’s call prompts broader discussions on space regulations, values, and the importance of involving diverse voices in decision-making.

The situation underscores the need for ongoing and inclusive discussions about the limits and ethical considerations of human activities beyond Earth. As the commercial space sector continues to grow, striking a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring responsible practices becomes increasingly crucial to avoid potential conflicts and environmental concerns in outer space.

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