Commercial Lunar Burials: An Ethical and Legal Conundrum


The commercialization of space has opened up new possibilities, including the potential for lunar burials. However, this concept raises several ethical and legal questions. This article delves into these issues, exploring the implications of space privatization, the response of indigenous communities, and the legal intricacies surrounding space activities.

As space exploration increasingly moves into the private sector, new and previously unimagined opportunities emerge. One such prospect is the ability to send our loved ones’s ashes to the Moon. But while this concept may seem intriguing to some, it presents a host of ethical and legal dilemmas that require careful consideration.

“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”

The Moon: Open for Business?

US-based company Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, although unsuccessful due to fatal fuel issues, was poised to carry scientific instruments from various countries and the ashes of individuals, including famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. These “vanity canisters,” as they were termed, were part of a commercial partnership that enabled paying customers to send their remembrances to the Moon.

Two American companies, Celestis and Elysium Space, have already offered services to send ashes into space aboard suborbital and Earth orbital flights. However, the concept of a Moon burial is a significant step further and costs substantially more – around US$13,000.

Ethical Considerations

While sending ashes to the Moon may appeal to some, others have opposed it. Indigenous cultures, including the Navajo Nation, consider the Moon sacred and object to its use as a memorial site. Despite this, NASA stated in a press briefing that it had no control over what was on the Peregrine, highlighting the gap between commercial enterprise and international space law.

A Legal Labyrinth

As the commercialization of space accelerates, the legal landscape surrounding such activities grows increasingly complex. The Outer Space Treaty (OST) declares space the “province of all mankind” while banning national appropriation. However, it fails to address the actions of private companies and individuals.

The Artemis Accords, signed by 32 nations, have expanded protection to lunar sites of historical significance. Still, these protections only apply to governments, not commercial missions. Furthermore, no one owns the Moon or any other celestial body, making granting burial rights a legal difficulty.

As countries like Indonesia and New Zealand have space laws that include grounds for refusing payload items deemed not in their national interest, countries without such considerations, including Australia and the US, may have to expand their legal frameworks with the rise of commercial space activities.

Where to Draw the Line?

As we venture further into the cosmos, we must decide where to place the boundaries of acceptable behavior. While official mementos left by astronauts on the Moon may be culturally and historically significant, sending personal items like hair clippings or pet ashes may not.

The failed Peregrine mission, with its ashes and vanity payloads, exemplifies the uncharted territory we are entering. It highlights the need for comprehensive legal and ethical guidelines as we contemplate future commercial activities such as asteroid mining and space colonization.

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