Sun. May 26th, 2024

A religious test for space exploration?

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May13,2024

An editorial recently published on SpaceNews took the position that my company’s Luna Memorial Spaceflight service should not be permitted on the Moon because the Navajo Nation views the Moon as sacred.

In essence, the author is arguing that lawful space missions should be subject to the religious test of a single culture.

The heart of the argument, however, really comes down to how we see our future and the moon’s role in it. Is the moon a celestial body meant only for science and passive art, as the author says, or is there a more robust future for our nearest neighbor?

That future would include human settlements, the use of lunar resources, manufacturing and energy generation – basically enabling us to begin our next step into the solar system. In that future, there is an important role for science, preservation and commerce.

Unless we (and all other nations) forgo human settlement on the Moon – any ban on human remains handling and disposition on the moon would be at most temporary. As we move off planet Earth, we will take all our celebrations, rituals and memorials with us, including our funerals and our memorial services, even as we create new ones. It’s unfathomable that Earth will be the only place that these important customs and celebrations will take place.

What is the Celestis Luna Memorial service?

It’s important to understand what our service is and what it is not. It is a memorial spaceflight that celebrates a life by placing DNA or a symbolic portion of cremated remains onboard a spacecraft bound to land on the moon.

The Celestis payload is composed of very small (one-fourth inch by one-half inch) aerospace-grade aluminum capsules holding 1 to 2 grams of cremated remains or DNA samples. These capsules are flight-proven and are thoroughly tested (vacuum and temperature) flight articles with secure closure.

The flight capsules are placed inside a separate container, designed and built by our service provider, integrated on a lunar-bound spacecraft and launched to a specified landing location where they remain permanently. They are not dispersed, released or otherwise scattered on the lunar service.

Celestis payloads often serve an active, important role for the spacecraft, including ballast and radiation protection.

Celestis payloads delivered to the moon are well within the current international legal framework. On four occasions to date, the United States government has approved our Luna Service. Prohibition would require new legislation which would clearly impinge on Americans’ First Amendment right to worship as they choose.

What the Celestis Luna Memorial Spaceflight Service is not

1: Disrespectful – The author contends that the lawful disposition of human cremated remains in disparate environments held sacred by one or more cultures is “disrespectful.” This is by no means a universally held belief. Catholic doctrine suggests ashes must be stored on sacred sites. Hindus scatter ashes in the sacred waters of the Ganges.

Who among us believes that the legal scattering of cremated remains in our sacred National Parks is somehow disrespectful to anyone or any place? Similarly, who believes that when Neil Armstrong’s family chose to scatter his ashes in the Atlantic Ocean they were somehow engaging in a disrespectful act?

On Earth, many diverse cultures throughout history held the oceans sacred and conduct their final memorial services at sea. Certainly, no culture holding the ocean sacred has suggested a ban on burial at sea for everyone on the entire planet. The oceans, like the moon, are owned by no individual or nation and are governed through a number of international agreements – none of which attempt to prohibit the time-honored tradition of burial at sea.

We manage to coexist on our living home planet with those who regard Earth as sacred and with those who are free to select their own disposition practice and location. Why should it be different on the moon or elsewhere in the solar system?

Celestis clients, their families, and many others contemplating their final memorial services choose our service because it is conducted with utmost respect for families – many of whom believe their faith is consecrated or fulfilled by participating in a Celestis mission. Our most recent lunar mission, for them, is the most respectful service they can conceive of. We have served people from many faiths – including Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish customers – as well as those of no faith.

2: A service only for the wealthy – Celestis Memorial Spaceflights range in price from less than half to slightly more than the average cost of a U.S. funeral, which is now approximately $9,000. Lunar services are priced at $13,000. They are not expensive, nor are they only for the wealthy. Indeed, our clients hail from a wide range of backgrounds that includes truck drivers, restaurant owners and retired NASA and aerospace workers, among many others. These are hardly only the rich.

3: A claim of ownership of the moon – Some observers have falsely claimed that Celestis is seeking to privately own the moon, or a portion thereof. These claims are not fact-based. We land and remain as a secondary payload aboard a lunar lander, exercising no claims to ownership of the landing site.

Ultimately, human death is a part of life, and it will continue to be a part of life on the moon as multiple nations seek to build and operate human settlements there. For a nation literally founded to escape the imposed religions of the Old World – as enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution – to somehow look back in time and enshrine a single religious view governing all activities on the moon would be to deny all other religions the right to lawfully celebrate their own beliefs. That would be a disrespectful policy.

Charles M. Chafer is the co-founder and Chairman of Celestis Inc. In the early 1980s, he served as Vice President of Government Relations for Space Services, Inc. of America, which launched the first privately funded rocket into space, the Conestoga 1. In 1994, he co-founded Celestis, Inc. and led the team that launched the first memorial spaceflight – the Founders Flight – in 1997. Under Charlie’s leadership, the company has accomplished over 20 memorial spaceflights to date.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “A religious test for space exploration?”
  1. As an advocate for cultural diversity and exploration, I strongly believe that restricting Luna Memorial Spaceflight based on a single culture’s beliefs is not the way forward. The moon holds the promise of a bright future for humanity, including human settlements, resource utilization, and scientific advancements. It’s essential that we respect different traditions while embracing progress in space exploration.

  2. The author of the editorial raises a valid point, but I believe that cultural beliefs should not restrict the potential of space exploration. The moon holds vast potential for our future, including human settlements and resource utilization. We cannot limit our progress based on religious tests.

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