Is Anyone Buried on the Moon?

American geologist and planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker never got to walk on the Moon, but now he gets to spend the rest of eternity there.

NASA's Lunar Prospector mission carried a sample of Eugene Shoemaker's ashes to the Moon.
NASA's Lunar Prospector mission carried a sample of Eugene Shoemaker's ashes to the Moon.

Early in 1998, when NASA sent its Lunar Prospector spacecraft to the Moon to search for ice, it was carrying one ounce (28 grams) of Shoemaker's ashes. And when the orbiter plunged into the lunar surface on July 31, 1999, Shoemaker became the first and only person to be buried on another world.

Shoemaker gained fame by co-discovering Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which crashed into Jupiter in July 1994, becoming the first such collision ever witnessed by mankind. Shoemaker's noteworthy career also included developing the field of planetary science, studying craters on Earth, founding the Astrogeology Research Program of the United States Geological Survey, and teaching Apollo astronauts about the surface of the Moon before they stepped onto it.

After Shoemaker died in a car crash in 1997, NASA worked with Celestis, a company that secures payload space on rocket launches for people's remains, to arrange the depositing of a portion of Shoemaker's ashes on the Moon.

Shoemaker's remains were packed in a polycarbonate capsule wrapped in brass foil. His birth and death dates were laser-etched over an image of Comet Hale-Bopp, which was the last comet he observed with his wife, fellow astronomer Carolyn Shoemaker. The capsule also included a picture of the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona, where Shoemaker worked with astronauts, and this quote from Romeo and Juliet: "And, when he shall die/Take him and cut him out in little stars/And he will make the face of heaven so fine/That all the world will be in love with night/And pay no worship to the garish sun."

Ashes to ashes:

  • Fredric Baur invented the Pringles can, and when he died in 2008, his family had his ashes deposited in one.

  • Ashes from the remains of World Frisbee Championships founder Edward Headrick were mixed with plastic and molded into several of the flying discs after his 2002 death.

  • The ashes of writer Hunter S. Thompson were scattered by fireworks in a memorial show following his death in 2005.

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