Title: Navajo Nation Concerned about Placement of Human Remains on Moon in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Mission
The Navajo Nation, a Native American tribe, has expressed deep concern over the Biden Administration’s plan to place human remains on the Moon through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The Navajo people consider the Moon to be a sacred entity and view such actions as sacrilegious.
The human remains are set to be transported to the Moon via Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. However, NASA clarifies that it has no control over non-NASA payloads onboard commercial missions, including the cremated remains being sent by Celestis, a private company specializing in memorial spaceflights.
Celestis defends its decision by classifying the sending of remains as a service of celebration rather than desecration. The company insists that there is no religious test for conducting space activities and maintains that their services offer a unique way to honor and commemorate loved ones.
In response to this development, the President of the Navajo Nation has requested a postponement of the Peregrine launch, which is currently scheduled for January 8. This is not the first time that the Navajo Nation has voiced concerns about human remains being deposited on the Moon. During a previous mission in 1998, the tribe rebuked NASA for not consulting them and raising objections. This led to an agreement with NASA to involve the Navajo Nation in any future similar endeavors.
Sadly, it appears that NASA failed to consult with the Navajo Nation before the Peregrine mission, disappointing tribal leaders. In response, the Navajo Nation has sent a letter to both NASA and the Department of Transportation, urging a tribal consultation to discuss deliveries to the Moon on non-NASA missions. An intergovernmental meeting is being organized, with NASA expressing support for the dialogue.
Astrobotic, the commercial lunar launch provider, clarifies that the cremated remains will not physically touch the lunar surface. However, this explanation has not placated the Navajo Nation, which remains adamant about the need for religious and cultural sensitivity.
Celestis, having passed the regulatory review process conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), remains firm in their stance that their service is in no way a desecration. The company also offers other memorial options, such as launching remains into deep space.
Ultimately, as the controversy unfolds, it highlights the importance of involving indigenous communities in decision-making processes concerning activities that may impact their sacred spaces. The Navajo Nation’s request for tribal consultation with NASA and the Department of Transportation represents a crucial step towards achieving respectful and inclusive space exploration efforts.