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Memorial spaceflight: Cremated remains flying to the moon on private lander in 2021

Artist's illustration of Astrobotic's robotic Peregrine lander at Lacus Mortis on the moon. Peregrine's Mission One is scheduled to touch down in 2021.
Artist's illustration of Astrobotic's robotic Peregrine lander at Lacus Mortis on the moon. Peregrine's Mission One is scheduled to touch down in 2021.
(Image: © Astrobotic Technology Inc.)

If everything goes according to plan, the DNA of legendary sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke will be placed on the moon next year. That's fitting, because the moon is also home to a fictional alien monolith described by Clarke in his "Space Odyssey" series and rendered into visual manifestation by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick in the epic 1968 movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic's Peregrine Mission One for NASA is scheduled to launch in July 2021 atop a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, then land in an area on the northeastern part of the moon called Lacus Mortis.

Among the many payloads on the robotic Peregrine lander are capsules containing symbolic portions of cremated remains and DNA samples, a service offered by Houston-based Celestis, Inc.

Celestis calls the upcoming mission Luna 02 or "the Tranquility Flight." This latter name both honors the Apollo missions (Apollo 11 touched down in the moon's Sea of Tranquility) and describes the final resting place and peace of mind for participants and their families, said Celestis co-founder and CEO Charles Chafer.

Related: Here's where commercial landers will land on the moon for NASA

Off-planet service

The red circle indicates Lacus Mortis, an area on the northeastern part of the moon, which will be the touchdown locale for Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on its first lunar mission.

The red circle indicates Lacus Mortis, an area on the northeastern part of the moon, which will be the touchdown locale for Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on its first lunar mission. (Image credit: Celestis, Inc.)

Celestis provides a variety of mission options, Chafer told Space.com. "Our Luna Service is among the most popular, as it affords families and friends the permanence of an off-planet service and provides a constant reminder in the night sky of a loved one's final resting place," he said.

The Luna 02 mission is the 18th Celestis memorial spaceflight mission. The company has launched symbolic portions of cremated remains into suborbital space and Earth orbit, as well as to the lunar surface.

Celestis' Luna 01 flight sent the "cremains" of the renowned astrogeologist Eugene Shoemaker to the moon aboard NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft in 1998. Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco championed the proposal to honor the late scientist by sending his ashes to the moon.

At the end of Lunar Prospector's 19-month investigation of the moon, the spacecraft was deliberately crashed inside a crater of eternal darkness near the south lunar pole on July 31, 1999. That locale is now an enduring monument to Shoemaker. 

Rituals, celebrations and memorials

NASA's robotic Lunar Prospector probe carried ashes of the astrogeologist Eugene Shoemaker to near the south lunar pole on July 31, 1999.

NASA's robotic Lunar Prospector probe carried ashes of the astrogeologist Eugene Shoemaker to near the south lunar pole on July 31, 1999. (Image credit: UCLA/David Paige)

"Our Luna 02 mission and subsequent Celestis Luna missions commemorate those who wish to make a tangible contribution to humanity's continued exploration and peaceful utilization of space," Chafer said. "As humanity expands beyond the limits of a single planet, it is particularly appropriate that we carry our rituals, celebrations and memorials along with us."

The Peregrine lander is slated to have six Celestis containers, each holding 10 to 13 flight capsules. 

Reservations for the Luna 02 flight, which had a posted starting price of $12,500 apiece, are now closed. 

'Look up at the moon and smile'

Symbolic portions of the cremated remains of lunar geologist Mareta West are onboard the Celestis Tranquility Flight

Symbolic portions of the cremated remains of lunar geologist Mareta West are onboard the Celestis Tranquility Flight (Image credit: Celestis, Inc.)

A wide variety of people will take the Celestis Tranquility memorial space journey to the moon, including aerospace engineers, a steelworker, an airline executive, a British math teacher and an American high school chemistry teacher.

And Arthur C. Clarke. In 1999, U.S. space engineer Rick Fleeter traveled to Sri Lanka and collected hair samples from Clarke so that the author's DNA could be flown into space. The English writer died in 2008 at 90 years of age in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. 

Additionally, there's Mareta West, a lunar geologist who played a central role in determining the site for the first human landing on the moon, and 10-year old Audrey June Langford, who passed away in 2019. 

The ashes of Liam Anand, who lost his life in a motorbike accident at the age of 16, will also make the trip. A family member explained in a testimonial posted on the Celestis website: "For now, Liam is going to the moon. Wherever we will be in this world, his siblings, his family, his friends, will only need to look up at the moon and smile!"

Passionate skydiver Micah Couch is on the voyage too. Writes his wife: "Aiming big was the only option for Micah, and he wanted to go to space! Actually, not just space, he wanted to go to the moon. He should have been more specific about how he got there, but here we are!"

Elysium Space, too

The ashes of skydiver Micah Couch are on the Celestis Tranquility Flight.

The ashes of skydiver Micah Couch are on the Celestis Tranquility Flight. (Image credit: Celestis, Inc.)

Celestis isn't the only company offering lunar memorial services on the 2021 Peregrine mission: San Francisco-based Elysium Space is doing so as well. 

Elysium Space is charging $9,950 for the first 50 participants on the mission and $11,950 for later reservations.  

You can learn more via Elysium Space here.

Leonard David is author of the recently released book, "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. This version of the story published on Space.com.

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