The United States is set to embark on its first soft lunar landing since the Apollo era in collaboration with the private sector. However, the Navajo Nation, the largest Indigenous tribe in America, has raised concerns about human cremated remains on the upcoming Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, scheduled for launch on January 8.
While Peregrine’s primary mission involves scientific instruments to probe lunar surface radiation, it also carries payloads from Elysium Space and Celestis that include cremated remains and DNA intended to remain on the Moon permanently.
In a letter addressed to NASA and the Department of Transportation, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren expressed deep concern and disappointment, urging NASA to delay the launch. Nygren emphasized the sacred significance of the Moon in Indigenous cultures, likening the situation to the Lunar Prospector mission in 1998, which sparked objections from the Navajo.
NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, Joel Kearns, stated that the agency takes the concerns seriously and is arranging a meeting with the Navajo Nation. However, he noted that NASA has no control over the payloads of its private partners.
Celestis responded, asserting the right of all cultures to engage in religious practices and emphasizing that the mission does not desecrate the Moon, as the materials will remain aboard the lander.
The debate highlights the complex intersection of space exploration, cultural sensitivities, and private partnerships, raising questions about industry standards and ethical considerations in lunar missions.