Fact Check

Was a Rocket Launched into Space Carrying Remains of 330 People, Including George Washington?

"Imagine telling George Washington way back that one day in the future we'd be shooting his ashes up into space," one Reddit user commented.

Published Jan 9, 2024

 (X user @xFuHxQx)
Image Via X user @xFuHxQx
Claim:
In January 2024, a rocket was launched into space carrying the remains or DNA samples of 330 people, including George Washington, John F. Kennedy and "Star Trek" cast members.
Context

On Jan. 8, 2024, a rocket was launched as a part of Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One carrying 62 titanium capsules filled with human DNA and cremated remains to be deposited on the moon. Another 268 capsules were sent into deep space. The payload included hair samples of former presidents George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower contributed by an anonymous donor. After the launch, the spacecraft experienced a leak in its propulsion system, raising doubts that it would be able to reach its lunar destination.

On Jan. 7, 2024, a post was shared on Reddit claiming that a rocket was set to "release remains of 330 people, including George Washington, JFK and ‘Star Trek’ cast into space." The same claim was also spread on other social media platforms such as X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok.

Rocket set to release remains of 330 people, including George Washington, JFK and ‘Star Trek’ cast into space: ‘Permanent memorial’
byu/SFC-Scanlater instartrek

The posts referred to an article by The New York Post published on Jan. 6, 2024, with the title "Rocket set to release remains of 330 people, including George Washington, JFK and ‘Star Trek’ cast into space: ‘Permanent memorial.’" It read:

It’s their final frontier.

After an eight-month delay, a rocket will finally release into deep space the remains of 330 people from all walks of life — including George Washington and “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry.

Texas-based company Celestis Inc.’s inaugural Enterprise Flight is scheduled to launch at 2:18 a.m. Monday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, marking the first time human remains will be released on the moon and beyond by a commercial company.

The two-stage Vulcan Centaur rocket will first drop 62 of the 1/4- and 1/2-inch-long titanium capsules filled with DNA or cremated remains on the moon, in a 6-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide device called the Peregrine Lunar Lander.

It will become a “permanent memorial.”

The article continued, informing that "an anonymous donor contributed hair samples from former Presidents Washington, John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower."

The spaceship will then take the remaining 268 capsules over 185 million miles into deep space, where they will “orbit the sun forever,” said Celestis CEO and co-founder Charles Chafer.

“I’ve had a lot of firsts in my career, but this will be the first commercial deep space mission ever done — and hopefully it will be the first of many, many more over the next few centuries,” Chafer said.

The celestial payload will be filled with luminaries.

To verify the claim, we first searched for the Celestis company and found that on its official website it described itself as "the pioneer and iconic global leader in providing memorial spaceflights."

Through 17 missions since 1997, Celestis has helped families the world over commemorate the lives of their departed loved ones.

Our experienced team – co founded and led by globally recognized entrepreneur Charles M. Chafer — includes aerospace professionals, dedicated client services and customer support staff, and space launch event management experts. Our directors and advisors include a retired Director of the NASA Kennedy Space Center who directed more than 50 Space Shuttle launches, retired NASA astronauts, and pioneers of the commercial space age.

What's more, the website stated that "sending the Celestis spacecraft carrying cremated remains or DNA on a permanent celestial journey" would cost around $13,000.

(www.celestis.com)

We also found reports by The Associated Press (AP) confirming that on Jan. 8, 2024, a rocket was set to be launched into space carrying the ashes and DNA of "Star Trek" cast members.

AP published a video on the topic and its description read (emphasis ours):

“Star Trek” stars and fans are gathering in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the overnight launch of a new rocket. The rocket will carry the ashes and DNA from 70 people, including “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, into space. It’s also carrying ashes from “Star Trek” cast members James Doohan, DeForest Kelley and Nichelle Nichols, and strands of hair from three U.S. presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and George Washington.

The project, Peregrine Mission One, was spearheaded by Astrobotic Technology, being the first commercial American lunar lander mission. NASA's involvement was notable, with the agency sending its scientific payloads as part of the mission. Importantly, the mission was not without controversy. Indigenous groups, including the Navajo Nation and Maori leaders, have expressed strong objections to the mission. Their concerns primarily focused on the use of the moon for human burials, as the moon holds a revered place in their traditions.

Despite these objections, the Peregrine mission proceeded, albeit with a technical setback soon after launch. The spacecraft experienced a propulsion issue following its separation from the launch vehicle, a Vulcan Centaur rocket. This anomaly raised concerns about the mission's success and the fate of the payloads aboard. As of this writing, the spacecraft's ability to carry out a moon landing was in doubt.

All in all, on Jan. 8, 2024, a rocket was indeed launched destined to drop 62 titanium capsules filled with DNA or cremated remains on the moon. The remaining 268 capsules were to be sent into deep space. However, the mission's moon landing was in doubt due to a technical problem soon after launch.

Sources

Archive, View Author, and Get author RSS feed. Rocket Will Release Remains of Presidents, “Star Trek” Cast into Deep Space. 6 Jan. 2024, https://nypost.com/2024/01/06/news/rocket-will-release-remains-of-presidents-star-trek-cast-into-deep-space/.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One - NASA. 29 Nov. 2023, https://www.nasa.gov/missions/artemis/clps/astrobotic-peregrine-mission-one/.

Fisher, Kristin. “Navajo Nation’s Objection to Landing Human Remains on the Moon Prompts Last-Minute White House Meeting.” CNN, 5 Jan. 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/05/world/peregrine-moon-mission-navajo-nation-objection-human-remains-scn/index.html.

“‘Ignorant and Arrogant’: Maramataka Expert Opposes Moon Burials.” Te Ao Māori News, https://www.teaonews.co.nz/2024/01/08/it-is-ignorant-and-arrogant-maramataka-expert-opposes-moon-burials/. Accessed 9 Jan. 2024.

Payload Assessments Continue for NASA Science Aboard Peregrine Mission One – Artemis. 8 Jan. 2024, https://blogs.nasa.gov/artemis/2024/01/08/payload-assessments-continue-for-nasa-science-aboard-peregrine-mission-one/.

“Peregrine Lunar Lander | Astrobotic Technology.” Astrobotic, https://www.astrobotic.com/lunar-delivery/landers/peregrine-lander/. Accessed 9 Jan. 2024.

Roulette, Joey. “Moon Lander Problem Threatens Mission after Vulcan Rocket Makes Successful Debut.” Reuters, 8 Jan. 2024. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/technology/space/vulcan-rocket-set-debut-launch-with-first-us-moon-lander-decades-2024-01-08/.

The Ashes and DNA of ‘Star Trek’ Cast Members and Fans Are Being Sent to Space. apnews.com, https://apnews.com/video/florida-aerospace-technology-spacecraft-dawn-amore-charles-chafer-ebdb7d32c8d44b54bf3144e31243ef8b. Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

Video: Navajo Nation Calls for Moon Mission Delay over Plan to Bury Human Remains | CNN Business. 2024. edition.cnn.com, https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2024/01/06/navajo-nation-objection-to-land-human-remains-on-moon-blackwell-foa-vpx.cnn.

---. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4hFP5c-jTQ. Accessed 8 Jan. 2024.

Aleksandra Wrona is a reporting fellow for Snopes, based in the Warsaw area.