SpaceX’s Transporter 5 launches with remains of 47 people for ‘space burial’
by Amy Thompson  /  May 25 2022

“SpaceX launched its 22nd rocket of the year on Wednesday, the Transporter-5 rideshare mission, which included carrying 47 people’s cremated remains for a burial in space. The send off, designed by the company Celestis, marks the 18th time the company has launched space burial flights — which have increased in recent years at least partially because of commercial space companies like SpaceX. The Transporter-5 mission, which lifted off just before 2:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, is designed as an Uber pool for satellites. The rideshare missions pack multiple small satellites into a single rocket to deposit them in a sun synchronus orbit, which is ideal for imaging and weather satellites, as well as for cosmic burial grounds. Celestis packs the cremated remains of its clients into roughly lipstick-sized tubes, before packing them in a small satellite for launch.

“These small satellites carry a bevy of human remains that orbit the planet for about a decade before they fall back to Earth and are burnt up in the atmosphere, resembling a shooting star falling back to Earth,” Charles Chafer, who founded the company, told UPI in an interview. “When I came up with the idea [for the company], I was looking for something that could bring commercial space activities to a mass market,” Chafer said. “Obviously everyone dies — at least today that’s true — therefore you have a global market.”  The company’s first payload consisted of lipstick-tube sized portions of 24 people’s remains, which launched from the Canary Islands in 1997, and included the remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Among the ashes launched to space Wednesday was Marjorie Dufton — at one point she was the youngest female flight instructor in the country, according to her son, Michael Dufton. Marjorie Dufton was chosen to apply for NASA’s Mercury 13 program, which was considering allowing women to become astronauts, but the program was disbanded before she had an opportunity to go to space. “That was her biggest regret,” Michael Dufton told UPI. “But now she too can be amongst the stars.”

Chafer says that the company provides the families and friends of its memorial participants with GPS tracking data so they can track their loved ones as they pass overhead. Melissa Casey, whose son Travis had Duchenne muscular dystrophy and died a year ago at age 27, said it was her son’s dream to have his remains launched into space. “He always wanted to be cremated and sent to space,” Casey said. “He will be so proud to be up there, hanging out with all these other families and watching over all of us.” The launch was the culmination of a three-day-long memorial service the families and friends of the departed participated in. “I wanted to do this [for my mom] because I think she would be thinking ‘this is exactly what I wanted,'” Dufton said. “I know this was her life’s goal, and now it’s finally being fulfilled.” The company’s next memorial flight is slated for sometime in 2023, and the company is currently accepting participants, Chafer said.”

“A full Moon rises in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona.”

NASA responds to Navajo Nation’s request to delay private mission placing human remains on the moon
by Brett Tingley

“United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic are about to make history. On Jan. 8, a ULA rocket will send Astrobiotic’s Peregrine lander toward the moon. If it lands successfully, Peregrine will become the first private lander ever to reach the lunar surface. The mission will also mark the debut of ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket. Riding on Peregrine are a wide variety of scientific instruments developed by NASA that will pave the way for future lunar exploration as part of the agency’s Artemis program. But also tucked away on the mission’s manifest are sets of human DNA and remains, which are going up on memorial spaceflights offered by two different companies, Celestis and Elysium Space. Celestis will send one of its memorial payloads off into the final frontier of deep space on its Enterprise mission, while its Tranquility payload will ride to the moon on the Peregrine lander. Elysium Space will also place its own payload on the moon with Peregrine.

In response, the President of the Navajo Nation, Buu Nygren, has filed a formal objection with NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation over what he calls an act of desecration. “It is crucial to emphasize that the moon holds a sacred position in many Indigenous cultures, including ours,” Nygren wrote in a letter dated Dec. 21. “The act of depositing human remains and other materials, which could be perceived as discards in any other location, on the moon is tantamount to desecration of this sacred space.” Nygren has asked NASA to delay the mission until the Navajo Nation’s objections are addressed. In a pre-launch science briefing on Thursday (Jan. 4), NASA representatives addressed the controversy over the payloads containing human remains being included on the mission, noting that the mission is a private, commercial effort and that NASA has merely contracted for its scientific payloads to be transported to the moon. “We don’t have the framework for telling them what they can and can’t fly,” said Chris Culbert, Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The approval process doesn’t run through NASA for commercial missions.”

Culbert added that the private companies launching payloads as a part of the CLPS program “don’t have to clear those payloads” before launch. “So these are truly commercial missions, and it’s up to them to sell what they sell,” Culbert said. Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, acknowledged that these commercial missions could lead to further controversies. “With these new opportunities and new ways of doing business, we recognize that some non-NASA commercial payloads can be a cause for concern to some communities,” Kearns said. “And those communities may not understand that these missions are commercial and they’re not U.S. government missions, like the ones that we’re talking about.”

Kearns added that some of these commercial payloads could even be used for things like advertising, which could lead to further public outcry. However, Kearns pointed out that these early missions will allow NASA and other agencies to learn more about how to regulate access to the moon going forward. “We’re going to learn through these first landings, and the follow-up landings, all the different issues or concerns that are generated by that. And I’m sure that, as time goes by, there are going to be changes to how we view this, or how industry itself maybe sets up standards or guidelines about how they’re going to proceed.” The U.S. government has formed an interagency group to review the Navajo Nation’s objections and request for delay, agency representatives added during the briefing. Celestis, for its part, does not find those objections to be substantive. “The regulatory process that approves space missions does not consider compliance with the tenets of any religion in the process for obvious reasons. No individual religion can or should dictate whether a space mission should be approved,” Celestis CEO and co-founder Charles Chafer said in an emailed statement to “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,” Chafer added. “Simply, we do not and never have let religious beliefs dictate humanity’s space efforts — there is not and should not be a religious test.”

Biden Administration to Consult with Navajo about Human Remains on the Moon
by Marcia Smith  /  January 4, 2024

“NASA said today the Biden Administration will consult with the Navajo Nation about its concerns that human remains are being placed on the Moon on landers developed through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The Moon is sacred to the Navajo and putting human remains there is a sacrilege to them. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is a commercial mission, however, and NASA has no control over non-NASA payloads that are aboard. The chairman of the company sending the remains, Celestis, insists it is a service of celebration, not desecration. As we reported on Sunday, the President of the Navajo Nation is asking for the Peregrine launch, targeted for January 8, to be postponed. Celestis is one of Astrobotic’s 17 customers on this first Peregrine mission and is sending cremated remains, “cremains,” and DNA of dozens of people and one dog on what it calls the Tranquility Flight in capsules attached to the lander. This is Celestis’s second mission to the Moon. The first, Luna 01, was launched in 1998 aboard NASA’s Lunar Prospector. The Celestis capsule contained the ashes of renowned planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker.

The spacecraft was deliberately crashed into the lunar surface in 1999 at the end of its mission and Shoemaker’s remains thus were deposited on the surface. It was that event that sparked a rebuke from then-Navajo Nation President Albert Hale because depositing remains on the Moon is sacrilegious to the Navajo. NASA reportedly agreed to consult with them before doing anything similar again. Last week, current Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren told Arizona’s NPR station that he had just learned that cremains would be launched on Peregrine and sent a letter to NASA asking for the launch to be postponed. He cited NASA’s earlier commitment as well as a Biden Administration pledge to consult with them on matters impacting the tribe, but no one consulted them about this mission. During a weekly address today on Facebook, spoken mostly in Navajo, Nygren said in English: “At NASA they’re trying to send human remains to the Moon. As Navajo people we hold the Moon in such high sacredness and also respect that humans, animals, and insects and fish and all plants come from the Earth and they should be returned to the Earth.”

“Peregrine lunar lander encapsulated into payload fairing of ULA’s Vulcan rocket”

Peregrine is not a NASA launch, however, nor a government launch. It’s a commercial launch by Astrobotic. NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program is a Public-Private Partnership where companies like Astrobotic build lunar landers to deliver NASA payloads to the lunar surface. NASA simply purchases delivery services. The companies build and own the landers and procure launch services, finding non-NASA customers to close their business cases. Several companies have CLPS contracts. Two others are scheduled to launch lunar landers this year, Intuitive Machines and Firefly. As a customer, NASA has no control over what other payloads are aboard although NASA knows what they are. During a briefing today on NASA’s payloads on Peregrine, CLPS program manager Chris Culbert said “we have a reasonably good awareness about what payloads” are on all the CLPS missions, “but we don’t have a framework for telling them what they can and can’t fly.” NASA wants all the contractors to find other customers because the point is for this to be a sustainable, commercial endeavor. “They don’t have to clear those payloads with us. These are truly commercial missions. It’s up to them to sell what they sell.”

“Customers on Astrobotic’s first Peregrine mission for launch on January 8, 2024”

Commercial launches are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), part of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Whatever is being launched goes through an FAA/AST payload review to ensure regulatory compliance with safety, national security, and other requirements. Joel Kearns, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration in the Science Mission Directorate, said at today’s briefing that the letter from the Navajo Nation was sent both to NASA and DOT. It requests “a tribal consultation to discuss deliveries to the Moon on non-NASA missions.” An intergovernmental meeting is being set up with the Navajo Nation “that NASA will support,” Kearns revealed.

Commercial lunar missions are a new industry and everyone is still in the learning phase. “We take concerns like those expressed by the Navajo Nation very, very seriously.” In a statement to SpacePolicyOnline, Astrobotic pointed out that the payloads on Peregrine will not be deployed onto the lunar surface, so the cremains will not actually touch the Moon. “Astrobotic understands there are many differing beliefs concerning the lunar surface. While Astrobotic customers can answer further questions about their individual payloads, these payloads are not being deployed from the spacecraft. Astrobotic is fully compliant with planetary protection guidelines and adhering to all rules, policies, regulations, and laws for commercial space activity beyond Earth orbit.”

In an interview with SpacePolicyOnline on Tuesday, Celestis Chairman and CEO Charles Chafer pushed back on the Navajo complaints and their characterization of his business. “Nobody owns the Moon” and there is “no religious test for the conduct of space activities,” he insisted. While he has deep respect for the Navajo people and their culture, objecting to a space mission on religious grounds has no substance in law. Astrobotic passed the FAA/AST payload review process and “no one’s going to open the Astrobotic Peregrine lander” at this point. “We’re well founded in what we’re doing.” He said there was a public comment period when the launch license was under review where the Navajo could have raised their concerns.  “We know they’ve been tracking it for at least 20 years. We reject the whole premise that this is somehow desecration. We handle these capsules reverently. We do not scatter them on the lunar surface. We object to the entire characterization of our service that I read in the letter. It’s the antithesis of desecration. It’s celebration.”

Celestis offers four types of “experiences” — Earth Rise (launch to space and return to Earth), Earth orbit, Luna, and Voyager (launch into deep space). Peregrine is launching on the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket and Celestis has one of its Voyager experiences attached to the Vulcan’s Centaur upper stage. Named Enterprise and carrying remains of Gene Roddenberry and others from the Star Trek franchise, they will travel deep into space after separating from Peregrine and enter orbit around the Sun.”



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