Moon Express (MoonEx), the host of the next Celestis lunar memorial spaceflight, has announced that it will provide $1.5M in private funding for NASA-selected, lunar science payloads to fly to the Moon — including a payload that will fly along with the Celestis participants on board the Celestis Luna 02 flight. When families choose Celestis memorial spaceflights they not only fulfill their loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight, they also support the exploration of space.
Moon Express made its announcement November 1, 2016 at the annual meeting of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), in response to NASA’s call for lunar instrument concepts that would be flown to the Moon utilizing commercial mission services. Under its Lunar Scout Program, Moon Express will provide up to $500,000 in funding for each instrument selected by NASA to fly aboard the company’s first three commercial lunar missions of opportunity, beginning next year in 2017.
“The Moon Express Lunar Scout Program is designed to expand our partnership with NASA and support the lunar science community with new low cost lunar orbiter and surface missions,” said company founder & CEO, Bob Richards. “Our goal is to collapse the cost of access to the Moon to enable a new era of lunar exploration and development for students, scientists and commercial interests.”
Earlier this year, Moon Express became the first private company to receive government permission to travel beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space and land on the Moon. The company received the landmark U.S. policy decision on July 20th, 2016, following in depth consultations with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies. Moon Express plans a series of low cost robotic missions to the Moon starting in 2017 in support of science, exploration and commerce, with a long term goal of prospecting and harvesting lunar resources.
Moon Express was selected by NASA as an industry partner in 2014 under the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) program, designed to spur commercial cargo transportation capabilities to the surface of the Moon. Under the Lunar CATALYST program, NASA has provided Moon Express with technical support in the development of the company’s lunar lander systems, including the first ever flight tests of a commercial lander test vehicle conducted at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
The Lunar Scout Program is intended to be a pathfinder beyond Lunar CATALYST for new public private partnerships enabling delivery of NASA funded lunar science and exploration payloads by Moon Express commercial missions of opportunity.
“Public-private partnerships can further enable the exploration of the Moon and we applaud NASA and Moon Express for their initiatives,” remarked Dr. Clive Neal, LEAG Chairman. “Programs of these kind will enable new lunar missions of interest to the national and international scientific and exploration communities.”
ABOUT MOON EXPRESS
Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) is a privately funded commercial space company blazing a trail to the Moon to unlock its mysteries and resources with low cost robotic spacecraft products & services using exponential technologies. Driven by long-term goals of exploring and developing lunar resources for the benefit of humanity, the company has short-term business on-ramps of providing lunar transportation and services for government and commercial customers. NASA partnered with Moon Express in 2014 under its Lunar CATALYST program to help build the capability to return the United States to the surface of the Moon. In October 2015, Moon Express announced a launch contract with Rocket Lab USA for 3 launches to the Moon beginning in 2017. In 2016, Moon Express announced an agreement with the US Air Force to utilize Cape Canaveral Launch Complexes 17 and 18 for the development of its spacecraft.
Moon Express is a leading contender to win the $40M Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.
The Moon Express founders, Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, Naveen Jain, and Dr. Barney Pell, believe in the long term economic potential of the Moon to produce resources essential to humanity’s future on Earth and in space. For more information about Moon Express, visit: www.moonexpress.com
Reservations are open for the Celestis Luna 02 mission.Contact us for more information.
Our next Earth Rise Service mission will launch out of Spaceport America, New Mexico. If you’re traveling to New Mexico — “The Land of Enchantment” — to view the liftoff in person, consider visiting some of the many tourist attractions near Spaceport America.
First, join us on our tour of Spaceport America on “L-1,” the day prior to liftoff. We’ll tour mission control and the launch pad where you can see the UP Aerospace launch vehicle that will carry your loved one into space. We’ll then drive to the futuristic “Gateway to Space” terminal/hangar where space tourists will board Virgin Galactic spacecraft.
We recommend a visit to one of the area’s famous hot springs, which have a reputation as ancient healing remedies, in nearby Truth or Consequences. In fact, the city of Truth or Consequences was originally named “Hot Springs.”
Another must-see is the outdoor display at the White Sands Missile Range Museum of over 50 rockets and missiles that were tested at the U.S. government’s famous White Sands Missile Range. White Sands is the U.S.’ largest overland military test range. It was at White Sands’ “Trinity Site” that the world’s first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945.
White Sands National Monument is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Monument preserves this dunefield, along with the plants and animals that have adapted to its constantly changing environment.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park encompasses the largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, and provides camping, boating, water skiing, swimming, fishing, hiking and bird watching. Southern New Mexico’s mild climate makes this park a popular year-round destination.
We also recommend making the roughly two-hour drive to Alamogordo for a visit to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The museum stresses the significant role that the state of New Mexico has played in the development of the U.S. space program. For example, Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry, conducted much of his pioneering aerospace research in New Mexico. Visit the museum to learn more about Goddard’s work, and to see the museum’s many fascinating space history artifacts on display.
The June 21, 2013 launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico of the Celestis Centennial Flight — which was named in honor of the 100th anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood — marked the cumulative flight of over 1,000 Celestis flight capsules into space over the course of Celestis’ company history.
Like Celestis families of other memorial spaceflights, the family members who travelled to Spaceport America found that the launch and all of the Celestis activities associated with it were made for an emotionally-moving experience. Family members and friends participated in the Centennial Flight’s launch-related events, which included:
– A tour of mission control, the launch pad and Spaceport America;
– Sharing memories of their departed loved ones in a non-sectarian memorial service for all of those on board the mission; and
– Viewing the thrilling launch!
After the flight each family received their loved one’s flown space capsule — with the cremated remains still inside — as a keepsake. Families also received a video of the launch and related activities, as well as a Launch Certificate.
Among the people aboard this memorial spaceflight were:
– Greatly admired Hatch, New Mexico Mayor Judd Nordyke, who was an early advocate for Spaceport America;
– Candy Johnson, an American dancer who appeared in several of the Frankie Avalon ‘Beach Party’ films of the 1960s, thrilling audiences with her highly energetic dance style;
– Johnson’s sister, Gayle Johns; and
– Maria Swan who was crowned “Miss World Argentina” in 1967 and became Argentina’s first female airline pilot.
The mission flew aboard an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL launch vehicle, which has flown each of Celestis’ Earth Rise service missions. The spacecraft followed a trajectory like that flown by the astronauts on NASA’s early Gemini missions by flying into space and, after experiencing the zero gravity environment, returning to Earth. The Centennial Flight flew to an altitude of 73.9 miles (118.9 kilometers) and landed at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) downrange.
This was Celestis’ 5th Earth Rise mission and 12th overall memorial spaceflight. Starting at just $1,295, the Earth Rise Service is a popular memorial spaceflight choice which, unlike other options such as Earth Orbit and lunar memorial missions, returns the flown cremated remains to the family. Read more about the Celestis Earth Rise Service….
When Celestis launched its 10th memorial spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico in May 2011 the company decided to name the mission “The Goddard Flight” in honor of Robert Goddard, a famous American space pioneer.
Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocket propulsion, spent a dozen years in New Mexico developing and testing his rocket designs. So when Celestis launched its 10th memorial spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico in May 2011 the company decided to name the mission The Goddard Flight in honor of this famous American space pioneer.
Celestis’ Spaceport America launches fly on a suborbital trajectory, like Alan Shepard’s historic May 1961 suborbital spaceflight when Shepard became the first American to fly in space. Like other Celestis Earth Rise service missions, the Goddard Flight flew into space, remained above Earth’s atmosphere for several minutes, and then returned to Earth. After the flight the Celestis payload was recovered, validated as having reached space, and each flown capsule – still containing its ashes – was returned to each family as a keepsake.
Attending a Celestis launch at Spaceport America is an unforgettable experience! Families tour the launch pad and mission control – a privilege that Celestis cannot always arrange for families at other launch venues. The day prior to liftoff Celestis conducts a non-sectarian memorial service where families share memories of their departed loved ones: These services are always beautiful, emotionally moving experiences that make for lifelong memories. Attendees also tour Spaceport America and see the facilities Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company will use for space tourist spaceflights. Moreover, families enjoy the beauty and wonder of New Mexico, and readily appreciate why the state is known as “the Land of Enchantment.”
Besides the launch and related activities at Spaceport America, Celestis publishes on its website the biographies of the people on board each of its memorial spaceflights. In addition to the flown capsule that is returned to each family, the flight’s online biographies provide a lasting tribute to the people whose dreams of spaceflight were fulfilled by their families through Celestis.
Reservations are open for the next Celestis Earth Rise mission, The Starseeker Flight. Celestis families will travel to New Mexico, visit the rocket and mission control, attend the Celestis memorial service, and experience the excitement of liftoff from Spaceport America! Contact us for more information…
Have you ever heard of a memorial being conducted at night? That’s what Celestis did when it launched the ashes of 320 mission participants into space May 22, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Nighttime launches are spectacular events – especially when someone you loved is on board. The Celestis families who witnessed the liftoff of The New Frontier Flight were overcome with joy as the launch vehicle carrying their loved ones’ ashes ascended into the night sky, like a star joining the heavens above.
Among the people on Celestis’ New Frontier Flight were Star Trek actor James Doohan (“Mr. Scott”), musician Randy Van Warmer – known for his hit song, “Just When I Needed You Most” – and Mercury 7 astronaut L. Gordon Cooper. In May 1963 Cooper piloted the Faith 7 spacecraft on the Mercury 9 mission – the last of the Project Mercury missions. In August 1965 he commanded the Gemini 5 mission, where he and astronaut Charles Conrad set a new space endurance record at the time, orbiting Earth for approximately eight days.
Yet the overwhelming majority of New Frontier Flight participants were everyday people from various walks of life. There were engineers, pilots, homemakers, a plumber, entrepreneurs, a delivery truck driver, educators, students, doctors, a police officer, and artists. They hailed from the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, India, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, France, South Africa and Russia. While they had different backgrounds, they had families and friends who wanted to commemorate their lives in a truly unique way that reflected their interests in space exploration, science fiction and the stars above.
View video of the New Frontier Flight launch
Reservations are open for the next Celestis Earth-orbiting mission, which is scheduled for launch from the Cape this year. Celestis families will travel to Florida, view the rocket, tour NASA-KSC, attend the Celestis memorial service, and experience the excitement of liftoff from the cradle of the American space program! Contact us for more information…
Celestis is preparing to launch its seventh Earth Orbit memorial mission, which will occur from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Celestis has named this mission “The Heritage Flight” in honor of the rich history of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s neighboring Kennedy Space Center.
The people whose ashes will fly aboard this mission will follow in the footsteps of the many astronauts who flew from the Cape, including Mercury 7 astronauts such as Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and the late L. Gordon Cooper. Indeed, Cooper has flown on several Celestis memorial spaceflights.
NASA Astronaut John McBride speaks in Cape Canaveral to Celestis families attending the Celestis New Frontier Flight memorial service held on “L-1” — the day before the scheduled launch of their loved ones into Earth orbit.
What better way to commemorate the life of someone who was fascinated by the space program, dreamed of flying in space, or wondered at the beauty of the night sky than to make them part of a Celestis memorial launch out of Cape Canaveral? Reservations are now open for this historic mission.
Celestis is the only company on the planet to have successfully conducted Memorial Spaceflight missions. Visit us at Celestis.com for more information or to arrange a Memorial Spaceflight for yourself or a loved one.
As the race to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize (awarded to the first private mission to land on the moon) reaches the final countdown, Celestis is poised to launch our Luna 02 Memorial Spaceflight Mission. The Luna 02 mission is scheduled for liftoff in 2017 and we’re pleased to report on the significant progress being made by two of our mission providers.
Celestis made history in 1999 when NASA requested our assistance to honor the memory of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker – the esteemed astronomer and scientist/teacher for the Apollo astronauts – by placing a symbolic portion of his ashes aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft. Our Luna 01 memorial spaceflight remains the only commercial lunar mission in history. Celestis is poised to make history again when we honor the memory of Mareta West – NASA’s first woman astrogeologist – and dozens more by launching their ashes to the moon aboard our Luna 02 mission. We have contracted with two potential mission providers for our Luna services — Moon Express, Inc. and Astrobotic, Inc. — and will select one of them to provide the Luna 02 mission. Both of these companies have recently made significant announcements and great progress toward the goal of a commercial lunar mission. We are proud to be customers.
Moon Express, Inc. and Google recently (12/8/15) announced the achievement of a significant milestone – the official verification of a launch contract that will send a Moon Express MX-1E micro lander to the lunar surface in pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize. Celestis payloads are scheduled to be aboard the micro landers.
This certification by the Google Lunar X Prize Evaluation Committee is a key eligibility requirement to contend for the prize. Moon Express is only the second global contestant to obtain it. Moon Express will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket to launch its spacecraft to the moon.
The State of Florida recently announced a matching $1 million grant to assist Moon Express in the further development of their test facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida. We are excited at the progress demonstrated by Moon Express and look forward to conducting several lunar missions with them as host.
Astrobotic, Inc. is the team founded and led by legendary technologist Dr. Red Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon University. Astrobotic has received funding from NASA to develop technologies related to its Griffin lunar rover, and has engaged corporate sponsors from Japan and other nations built around the Astrobotic mission.
More recently, Astrobotic has extended the scope of its mission partners to include contributions from teams in Chile and Japan. In June 2015, Astrobotic announced an agreement with the Mexican Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Mexicana – AEM) to deliver Mexico’s first payload to the moon.
Celestis was one of the earliest payloads of interest for Astrobotic – we applaud their success and expect to fly multiple missions aboard their spacecraft.
The Celestis Luna Service – which can be pre arranged or purchased at time of need – is among our most popular choices. Because all lunar missions are very limited in the amount of secondary payload space available, we cannot guarantee access to the mission of your choice unless you’ve made a reservation. Click here to review options and contracts.
Earth’s nearby neighbor has beckoned to us through the ages. When, beginning in the 1960s, humanity took its first baby steps toward becoming a multi planet species – the Apollo program – it was only natural that our astronauts conducted the first lunar memorial service. During the Apollo 15 mission, astronaut Dave Scott placed a plaque on the surface of the moon commemorating the lives of 14 fallen astronauts and cosmonauts.
Decades later NASA would sponsor a second lunar memorial service with the flight of a symbolic portion of Eugene Shoemaker’s cremated remains to the Lunar South Pole. The lunar crater where Eugene Shoemaker rests in a Celestis flight capsule was subsequently named in his honor.
By making your departed loved one a part of an upcoming Celestis lunar mission, you help support the further exploration of the Moon. Consider making your loved one a part of space history with the Celestis Luna Service.
Tom Petty is one of my favorite artists, and I’m often reminded – especially because I’m in the space business – of his words, “the waiting is the hardest part…”
As the Co-Founder and CEO of Celestis, Inc., I’m sometimes asked questions such as “can I get an exact launch date for my service?” or “why has my launch been delayed?” or “why can’t you give me more details about the launch services provider?”
These questions – coming from people who are considering or have already purchased our space funeral service – are completely understandable. The Celestis Memorial Spaceflight service is a compelling and special way to celebrate a life – by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains or DNA sample into space, into Earth orbit, to the Moon, or into deepest space. Because it is such a compelling service its anticipation can be a bit overwhelming, when juxtaposed against the reality of the challenges of actually achieving space travel.
But it wasn’t until Celestis conducted its first mission – the Founders Flight in 1997, which also included Mr. Roddenberry as a participant – that the option of launching ashes into space as a final tribute became a reality for all of us.
Since 1997, we’ve conducted 14 memorial spaceflight missions. No other company has successfully completed even one – some have tried. We’ve (symbolically) sent more people into space than all Earth’s nations combined have sent astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts (Chinese astronauts), and tourists.
We’ve been able to achieve this impressive record despite the fact that – even after 55 years of spaceflight – space launch events are rare, expensive, and remain difficult to successfully accomplish. There are only approximately 45 global commercial space launches conducted PER YEAR, with only a small (but increasing) percentage of those hosting commercial secondary payloads, including Celestis. Most commercial space missions involve satellites valued in excess of $100m and require the full capability of the rocket to ensure proper orbital placement, leaving no opportunity for secondary payloads. By comparison, note that globally there are more than 100,000 commercial air flights EVERY DAY, with plenty of available cargo capacity.
Celestis has negotiated flights with proven providers of space launch services including Orbital/ATK, SpaceX, NASA, and UP Aerospace. We are one of the very first companies to contract with launch companies for small, “ride along” payloads, and we continue to find innovative ways for our participants to fulfill their final wish for a memorial spaceflight. We’ve proven again and again that we understand the complexities of providing flight ready secondary payloads without disruption to the primary mission – a matter of paramount importance to our hosts.
How We Choose a Launch Service Provider
As we consider which flight opportunities to pursue on behalf of our clients we assess three factors prior to proceeding to contract negotiations with a space mission provider. Each is important, and each requires the kind of expertise we’ve gained over 35+ years of commercial space operations – remember Celestis’ parent company Space Services launched the first-ever private rocket into outer space in 1982. When we select a mission provider, you can be assured that we have made a careful choice on your behalf.
1. Affordability – The only way memorial spaceflights can remain within the reach of the average person (our Earth Rise and Earth Orbit services are priced at less than the average cost of a US funeral) is by purchasing secondary space on a rocket or spacecraft. Very few of us could afford to buy an entire rocket for ourselves!
2. Reliability – This is a key consideration. We want to give our participants the best possible chance of success on their memorial spaceflight mission. As the commercial space industry blossoms and new entrants begin to offer new launch and mission services, we are encouraged that very soon commercial secondary payloads such as Celestis will enter an era of abundant availability. But we are not there yet.
As Smithsonian pointed out in 2014, “Commercial spaceflight is off to a slow start. This makes sense, of course – going to space is hard: it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, it’s technologically challenging, and it’s a whole new legal frontier. Few nations, let alone companies, have successfully left planet Earth.”
Moreover, as new entrants emerge there is always a “proving” period during which systems are not yet fully mature and are subject to an elevated level of development delays and even inflight failures. For example, in 2003 Virgin Galactic – the “space tourism” company founded by Sir Richard Branson – announced their initial flight scheduled for 2007. In 2016 that first mission is still at least two years away, with over 700 customers waiting for one of six seats per flight once the SpaceShip 2 system is declared operational.
This is not an atypical development cycle in aerospace. I should also note that as a rule Celestis will not place one of our spacecraft on the first mission of a new launch vehicle conducted by a new launch team. We have witnessed two instances of companies that were seeking to compete with Celestis placing their payload of precious remains aboard the first flight of a new rocket – in both instances the flights failed. While missions can always fail for a variety of reasons, we believe that first missions are subject to a higher failure rate than missions employing a proven launcher and/or team – hence our avoidance of first flights.
3. Launch Location and Scheduling – As I mentioned – and as everyone who has attended one knows – Celestis launch events are perhaps the most compelling memorial services on (or off!) the planet. Many families and friends travel from all over the globe to be at the launch of their loved one into space. We’ve launched from all over the world, but our most popular missions fly from one of three US launch sites, so we tend to favor those launch sites.
Often our contract negotiations with mission providers, which often involve multiple departments within very large aerospace companies, are governed by very strict Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s). For a variety of valid reasons these service providers desire to tightly control the public release of information about their partnerships and customers. We understand these reasons and abide by all of the provisions of any NDA we sign – even including, on rare occasions, silence right up to the launch itself. Of course, in these extreme instances we use private means of communication to keep the family members and friends of our participants informed.
Once we’ve reached agreement with a launch services provider to host a Celestis payload, the next step in getting to a launch is called “manifesting,” which means committing the Celestis payload to a specific launch or spacecraft.
The Nature of Launch Countdowns
When a Celestis launch is manifested and scheduled, and the Celestis payload is integrated onto the rocket or spacecraft, the countdown to launch commences. For some of our missions – especially the Earth Rise Service – the count is smooth, the launch date predictable, and there is overall relative schedule certainty. For others – for a variety of reasons – the schedule is much less predictable. Again, this is not uncommon in the space business.
For example, NASA’s Space Shuttle – one of the most expensive launch vehicles ever developed – launched on schedule about 40 percent of the time. A 2008 analysis by the Associated Press found that of the 118 Shuttle flights that had flown at the time, only 47 lifted off on time. So even with the best technology NASA can generate, launch schedules in the modern era are at best estimates of projected launch dates.
All of this may seem rather daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Memorial spaceflights are meant as celebrations, achievements, and the fulfillment of dreams. Who can put a schedule on reaching these amazing goals? Part of the reason the waiting is so difficult is that the reward is so special.
The first president of Space Services, astronaut Deke Slayton, was originally scheduled to be on the second Mercury orbital flight in 1962. Deke was grounded by a heart murmur and had to wait 13 years and visit countless doctors before he was able to launch into space aboard Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 – it was that important to him.
Fortunately, no one has had to or ever will wait that long for a memorial spaceflight. The current incredible growth of commercial space activities guarantees that more and more, the choice to commemorate someone’s life with a memorial spaceflight is an achievable goal. With Celestis, one can be assured that even though we are still in the “Wright Brothers era” of commercial spaceflight, we will continue to offer our uniquely compelling memorial service through an ever increasing number of providers, offering ever more choices for people all over the world.
What is more appropriate as we become a multi-planet species than to take our rituals, memorials, and remembrance practices along with us? Celestis is the pioneer, but the families of Celestis participants – often patiently waiting for the next flight – are the real reason why we are able to offer this most compelling memorial service. That’s the reason we keep each family fully informed of the latest launch news, take the time to answer each family’s questions, and provide families a truly memorable launch experience — whether they attend the launch and related activities in person or online. In short, our mission is to help families fulfill their departed loved ones’ dreams of spaceflight. While launch schedules may change, in the end making spaceflight dreams come true is what our service is all about.
Celestis’ 7th Earth Rise Service mission, The Tribute Flight, is dedicated to all of those represented on board the mission, as well as to the ancient Native Americans of northwestern New Mexico whose thousand-year-old architecture speaks of a culture that was very much in tune with the motions of the Sun, the Moon and the stars — much like the people on board Celestis memorial spaceflights who, in life, wondered at the beauty and majesty of the heavens above. In this article we explore some of the ancient art and architecture of the people who lived in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico a millennium ago.
American Indian peoples have continuously occupied the Colorado Plateau of the Southwest for over 10,000 years. From about AD 860 – 1150, the people of Chaco Canyon (in modern New Mexico) created monumental public and ceremonial buildings, most of which were precisely aligned along north-south lines. Although the Chacoan people did not leave a written record, the archaeological evidence suggests that shamans (basically, Chacoan priests) used markings on these buildings and on nearby cliffs to determine the exact onset of astronomically-significant events, such as the precise dates of the changing of the seasons. These events not only would prove practical for their agricultural-based society, but would also likely mark the time periods for significant ceremonial/religious events.
Without a written record, interpreting exactly how the Chacoans used their astronomically-aligned buildings and significant landmarks is much like interpreting how the ancient people of Great Britain used Stonehenge. Perhaps the most prominent interpretation of Chacoan culture has been made by Anna Sofaer of The Solstice Project. In the 1970s Sofaer discovered the famous “Sun Dagger” phenomenon on Chaco Canyon’s Fajada Butte: This phenomenon reads like something straight out of a Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Each year on the summer solstice (when summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere) a narrow ray of sunlight shines through a set of massive stones and strikes the exact center of a spiral diagram etched long ago by Native Americans on a side of Fajada Butte. Rays of sunlight strike other, significant parts of the spiral diagram on the days that mark the onset of fall, winter and spring. Sofaer’s study of Chaco Canyon formed the basis of a 1982 PBS documentary narrated by Robert Redford called “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.”
While scholars debate why the ancient people of Chaco Canyon built their fascinating buildings and perfectly aligned roads stretching miles into the desert, there can be no doubt that the Chacoan people placed great emphasis on observation of the Sun and night sky. Surely they felt the same way about the cosmos that many of us do today — that we are all part of, and connected to, the universe.
In many Native American cultures the Milky Way is interpreted as a bridge over which the souls of the dead walk to the afterlife. As Celestis launches departed loved ones into the New Mexico sky, we are fulfilling long-held dreams of travel amongst the stars. So it is appropriate that we dedicate our next Earth Rise mission to the ancient peoples of Chaco Canyon.