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Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Moondust April 11, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in Ashes, Astrobotic, Celestis, Google Lunar X Prize, Lunar conservation, Odyssey Moon, private sector.
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As many have heard through various news outlets lately, a company (Celestis) is now offering to send human remains to the Moon or the Moon’s orbit. Celestis actually describes it universally as “Luna”, e.g. the “Luna Service“, which I guess sounds more romantic.

First thing I noticed with Celestis’ Luna Service is it is through a partnership with Odyssey Moon, Ltd. and Astrobotic Technology, Inc., with the general lean being to go for the Google Lunar X Prize, worth a cool $30 million.

Commerical ventures to the Moon are, as you can tell, a reality, and in fact may very well be far more important in implications than any governmental effort. This ashes effort may go down as a large, early step down a historic and critical path.

For now, though, let’s look at the practical matters of having our remains on and around Luna.

For an easy $10,000, you can have one gram of remains transported to the moon (or, as they note, attempted to be transported to; the remains get a free! re-flight if the mission fails). For two participants (e.g., husband/wife), or for more remains (7g instead of 1g), the cost is higher, up to $30,000 (well, $29,985).

As the Yahoo!/Reuters article linked above notes, Celestis projects 1,000 capsules will go on the first flight, with 5,000 on later flights. Half a dozen have already registered remains for the first flight. The service was inaugurated some time ago, in 1999, for the remains of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. Celestis is itself a company of Space Services, Inc. which has already had other ventures, such as Name a Star.

The thing I wonder about personally with the remains is, where exactly are they headed? Looking at Earth’s history with this kind of thing, and from my perspective of having recently finished my Bachelor’s in Urban Studies and Planning…I respect the idea of putting remains on the Moon, but the track record for future respect to their location is not a pretty one (and so proper identification of their location becomes critical). And therein lies one of the first Lunar Environmental Planning issues: How, exactly, to prevent the resting place of these remains from being turned into a waste dump, or a base for a country or company unaware of the location’s significance, or something else similarly inappropiate.

It seems like a no-brainer now that we’d be able to avoid something like that with such a high-profile and newsworthy venture, but mankind really is a race never to be underestimated, especially when we’re building things.

Whenever we as a race get in a big rush to pioneer somewhere, the little things (like preserving the sanctity of people’s remains) often get passed over in the excitement of the moment (just like Neil Armstrong’s missing A). Let’s see what we can do this time to make sure these little oversights remain a habit of mankind on just Earth, and not on other celestial bodies :)

For now, though, we have an exciting project to keep our eye on and to entertain our daydreams. And, really, who knows what they’ll come up with next? :)
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