Who's the Only Person to Be Buried on the Moon?

Updated

Since the first Apollo landing in 1969, a total of 12 astronauts have set foot on Earth’s moon. The Apollo lunar-landing program ended in 1972, and no person has seen the Moon up-close, in-person since then. But that doesn’t mean no person has technically been to the Moon since that date. 

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If you count human remains, one person has actually arrived on the Moon's surface since the lunar-landing program ended. That person, who remains the only person “buried” on the Moon, is scientist Eugene Shoemaker. 

What’s Dr. Eugene Shoemaker’s Story?

Eugene Shoemaker was a leader and innovator in the fields of geology and astrology. With his combined expertise, he helped create the new discipline of planetary science. Shoemaker’s dream was to become an astronaut, but he was disqualified for medical reasons. 

Shoemaker-Levy Comet

You might recognize Dr. Eugene Shoemaker’s name from the historic comet, Shoemaker-Levy 9. The comet, which Dr. Shoemaker discovered with his wife, Carolyn, collided with Jupiter in 1994. 

The event was notable as the first time the inhabitants of Earth observed a planetary collision first-hand. A small town in Wyoming even constructed a landing strip to welcome any aliens who might be fleeing from the damaged planet. 

Earth science and astrogeology

Dr. Shoemaker wasn’t only an exceptional scientist when it came to outer space. He also forged new paths in science Earth-side, studying a number of Earth’s own craters throughout his storied career. In the early 1960s, Shoemaker founded the Astrogeology Research Program within the existing United States Geological Survey. 

Shoemaker also used his breadth of experience and knowledge to train Apollo lunar mission astronauts. He taught them about the conditions they should expect to experience on the Moon. 

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How Did He Get Buried on the Moon?

Eugene Shoemaker died abruptly on July 18, 1997, at the age of 69. He was exploring a meteor crater in Australia when he was involved in a fatal car accident. 

But even after death, Dr. Shoemaker’s journey and his contribution to planetary science weren’t over. The scientist, who dreamed of becoming an astronaut in life, would finally achieve his goal in death. That’s where a unique company called Celestis comes in. 

Celestis memorial spaceflights

Celestis was founded in 1994 as a “memorial spaceflight” service. The one-of-a-kind business is a subsidiary of the private company, Space Services, which offers star-naming services. 

So far, Celestis is the only company to successfully conduct memorial spaceflights or space burials. Celestis “rideshares” by finding extra room on space launches that are already taking place. If a launch has a little extra wiggle room onboard, Celestis might try to fill that extra space with cremated remains. 

Then, they attach the capsules full of remains to pieces of spacecraft that, at the end of their orbital lifetime, burn up completely upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. 

Luna Mission

Celestis offers a number of space memorial flight packages, but its most exclusive services include the Luna Memorial Spaceflight. Only this service launches remains into the Moon’s orbit or onto the Moon’s surface. 

To date, the only person to travel on a Celestis Luna Mission, and subsequently have their ashes “buried” on the surface of the Moon, is Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. The Luna Mission was inaugurated in 1998 when NASA chose Celestis to help honor the legendary scientist.

Aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft, an ounce of Eugene Shoemaker’s remains flew into lunar orbit. The ashes were contained in a polycarbonate capsule, which was wrapped in a piece of brass foil. Laser-etched into the foil in memory of Shoemaker was his name, life dates, and a quote from Romeo and Juliet, as well as an image of the Hale-Bopp Comet and Arizona’s Meteor Crater. 

The mission ended when NASA purposely crashed the spacecraft onto the surface of the Moon, taking Shoemaker’s ashes with it. In so doing, they made  Eugene Shoemaker the first—and so far, only—person to be buried on the Moon. 

Can Anybody Get Buried in Space or on the Moon?

If you enjoy gazing up at the night sky, a space burial might sound like the perfect alternative to traditional interment. But there are a number of factors that currently restrict the average person’s ability to be buried in space or on the Moon. 

The main barrier to entry is cost: according to NASA, it costs $10,000 to put a single pound of payload into Earth’s orbit. Human remains usually weigh between four and seven pounds in total. 

It’s highly impractical to launch more than a small portion of a person’s remains or DNA into Earth’s orbit or beyond, both for the customer and for the company. As mentioned above, even Eugene Shoemaker only had an ounce of his remains carried into space and onto the Moon. And the cost-to-launch almost completely rules out the potential of a true “burial” (of a body, rather than remains) on the Moon. But that doesn’t mean space inurnment is out of reach for the average person.

Earth orbit memorial spaceflights

Celestis offers exclusive services, like the Luna Mission and a Voyager Mission, which launches remains beyond the Moon into deep space. But it also specializes in a less expensive, more approachable “Earth Rise” spaceflight. 

Earth Rise Memorial Spaceflights carry flight capsules filled with human remains and DNA into the sub-orbital, weightless environment of space. There, the capsules float freely over Earth for several moments before returning to Earth. Celestis Earth Rise launches take place out of New Mexico, and families can watch the launch in-person as part of the package. 

Celestis also offers an Earth Orbit package, which is similar to the Earth Rise service. It differs, however, in that the remains are carried all the way into Earth’s orbit. 

Upcoming moon burial flights 

The first, and so far last, Luna Mission was the flight commissioned by NASA to honor Eugene Shoemaker in 1998. But Celestis and NASA have another mission planned to deliver payloads to the Moon. They’ve partnered with Astrobiotics, a “space robotics company that seeks to make space accessible to the world.” 

If all goes according to plan, Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander will be the first American spacecraft on the Moon since the Apollo missions. It will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and land on the Moon, in an area called “Lacus Mortis.” 

The rocket will carry cremated remains and DNA, which will remain on the surface of the Moon as a permanent tribute. So far, twelve people have already reserved their spots on the Celestis Luna 02 Memorial Spaceflight. And if you want a spot, you’ll have to act fast: reservations close on November 1, 2020, and the spaceflight is expected to take place towards the end of 2021. 

Deep space burials

If the Moon just isn’t far enough, you can even have your ashes launched into deep space. At least, in theory. 

The first launch of its type—the Enterprise Flight—expects to carry some remains beyond the Moon’s gravitational pull. In so doing, it will also become one of just a few spacecraft which are infinitely orbiting the sun. 

The full details of the Enterprise Flight haven’t been released yet, but Celestis has revealed that it will host a three-day launch event for participants’ families. It’s expected to take place in 2022, and it’s still open for reservations. So far, more than 60 people have reserved their spots on the Enterprise Flight memorial spacecraft.

The Future of Space Burial 

Currently, Celestis is your only option if you want to send your ashes to space. But the future looks bright for space burial, with the emergence of private spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. 

With those independent programs coming into play, there are increasing opportunities to attach secondary payloads, like cremains, into space. 

Additionally, NASA has plans to reduce the cost of space travel (and, in turn, space burial) in the next several decades. The organization hopes to lower the price of launching a pound of payload into orbit from $10,000 to under $1,000 within that time. 

With more opportunities and a decreased cost, we could be seeing a lot more space burial in the future. 


Sources

  1. Grundhauser, Eric. “Eugene Shoemaker Is Still the Only Man Buried on the Moon.” Atlas Obscura. 22 October 2018. www.atlasobscura.com/articles/eugene-shoemaker-buried-moon-celestis-nasa#:~:text=On%20July%2031%2C%201999%2C%20the,to%20be%20buried%20off%2Dworld.
  2. “Advanced space transportation program: paving the highway to space.” Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA). www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/background/facts/astp.html#:~:text=Today%2C%20it%20costs%20%2410%2C000%20to,per%20pound%20within%2040%20years.
  3. “About the Founders Flight.” Celestis. www.celestis.com/launch-schedule/founders-flight/#mission-details
  4. “Astrobotic to host Celestis’ next Lunar Memorial Spaceflight.” Celestis. www.celestis.com/blog/astrobotic-hosts-luna-02/
  5. “About Astrobotic.” Astrobotic. www.astrobotic.com/about
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