National | Space

Moon burial company disputes indigenous protests

A space-burial company rejects protests about its service by the Navajo Nation and Māori.

Celestis has the approval to carry out space missions for the burial of human remains on the moon and PR director, Pazia Schonfeld, told Te Ao News it regarded protests by indigenous cultures as “religious beliefs”.

“No individual religion can or should dictate whether a space mission should be approved,” Schonfeld said.

“No one, and no religion, owns the moon, and were the beliefs of the world’s multitude of religions considered, it’s quite likely that no missions would ever be approved.”

Celestis is one of two companies providing lunar memorial and burial services for the dead, which has drawn objections from the Navajo Nation and maramataka Māori practitioner Heeni Hoterene.

There are at least 330 DNA samples and cremated remains being carried on Peregrine Mission One, a commercial lunar flight sponsored by NASA.

The packages that Celestis provides are either a lunar orbit or burial on the moon, and a flight into deep space that could last for millions of years. Each package starts from at least US$12,995, almost NZ$21,000.

Schonfeld stated their clients consider the service an appropriate celebration and “the polar opposite of desecration”.

“It’s hard for us to understand why scattering and interring ashes on literally millions of locations on Earth are appropriate rituals, but doing the same on the moon is somehow inappropriate.”

It is understood that DNA samples from the entire cast of Star Trek are aboard Peregrine One, as well as those of former US presidents John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Washington. Celestis, according to its website, has sent nearly 1,200 individual flight capsules into space on a variety of spacecraft. This included a NASA flight capsule in 1999 for the ashes of Dr Eugene Shoemaker who studied planetary geology. He was the first person buried on the moon, drawing objections from the Navajo Nation. President of the Navajo Nation, Dr Buu Nygren, also objected to the Peregrine One mission, prompting a last-minute meeting at the White House to delay the moon mission, which did not succeed. The lift-off was on Monday.

Celestis said Nygren’s concern was “not compelling”.

“The remains in the flight capsules are permanently encased and not released onto the lunar surface,” Schonfeld said.

Astrobotic, the company providing the spacecraft lander to service Celestis and 19 other payloads, says they have been targeting a lunar landing on February 23, but the spacecraft and its contents will likely continue to orbit space due to a propellant leak, ruling out any chance of a soft land on the moon.

This has not slowed down Celestis and its space-burial services.

“As we look to the future soon there will be a time when humans will live and work on the moon. Imagine not being able to care for the deceased, provide a final resting place, conduct a memorial service for them because one particular earthly religion objects?

“Humans must be able to take our rituals, celebrations and memorials with us as we explore the solar system.”