NASA weighs Navajo Nation objections to taking human remains to the moon

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2024 - 12:56pm
Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2024 - 5:24pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (1.31 MB)

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren
Lillie Boudreaux/Cronkite News
Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren.

Next week, NASA will respond to a Navajo Nation request to delay a moon launch that could carry cremated human remains.

The ashes come from private companies known for offering memorial services in space.

In 1998, NASA drew objections from the Navajo Nation when its Lunar Prospector carried an ounce of Flagstaff planetary scientist Gene Shoemaker’s ashes to the moon.

Current President Buu Nygren said NASA promised at that time to consult Native Americans in the future. He also discussed the sacred role the moon plays in Navajo and other Native American cultures.

“That’s why it was really easy for me as president to make that position because I said, ‘You know what, if NASA promised us to consult this back, then they should consult us,’” he said.

The issue has special weight for the Navajo people, who have specific traditions and spiritual values regarding death and human remains, including not discussing death, avoiding burial sites and not handling materials belonging to a deceased person.

Fronteras Science Native American Affairs