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On Friday, I finished a story that I’d been wanting to do for months, which highlighted religious freedom conflicts that have cropped up during space missions.

The news hook for the story was the Peregrine 1 mission earlier this year, which was supposed to deliver a variety of items to the moon but didn’t make it due to a propellant leak.

Leaders from Navajo Nation had objected to the mission organizers’ agreement to carry some human remains along for the ride, arguing that the ashes would desecrate the moon, which they consider sacred.

One of the details that I didn’t include in the story is what happened the last time a lunar mission included human remains. In 1998, NASA sent 1 ounce of Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes to the moon in recognition of his decades of service to the space industry.

Shoemaker was an aspiring astronaut, but he settled for becoming a scientist when he didn’t make the cut. By combining his interests in geology and astronomy, he helped develop the field of planetary science, per Atlas Obscura. He’s best known for spotting Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 alongside his wife, Carolyn Shoemaker, and fellow scientist David Levy, but he also trained astronauts destined to walk on the moon on what conditions to expect on the moon’s surface.

Shoemaker died in a car crash in 1997, and his former colleagues worked with NASA and a private company called Celestis to make the special burial plans, Atlas Obscura reported.

A few days after the lunar prospector carrying Shoemaker’s ashes was launched, Albert Hale, then the president of Navajo Nation, spoke out against the plan to eventually leave the prospector (and the ashes) on the moon. Like current Indigenous leaders, he argued that the moon was a sacred space, according to Scientific American.

NASA declined to adjust the mission, but promised to consult with Navajo Nation and others in the future when similar issues cropped up. As I note in my story, such consultations are much more complicated today than they were in 1998 since NASA increasingly has to defer to plans made by commercial space companies.

To this day, Shoemaker is the only man known to be buried on the moon, per Atlas Obscura.


Fresh off the press

Should faith groups have a say in the future of space travel?

What we know about Pat Sajak’s religion

Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee has once again broken from the conservative pack

Mexico’s president-elect thanked her husband. It led to a debate about religion


Term of the week: Griefbots

Griefbots or deadbots are AI-driven chatbots that help people connect with loved ones who have died. Companies like Eternos and StoryFile are able to create them if someone nearing the end of their life takes the time to fill out questionnaires or record videos about their experiences before they die, according to The Associated Press.

The rise of griefbots has brought with it many questions. Among them is the question of whether creating an immortal chatbot of a mortal person will derail the grieving process. And some wonder whether it’s fair for companies to sell access to griefbots if they can’t guarantee long-term access.

“What happens when the companies themselves cease to exist? StoryFile, for example, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying it owes roughly $4.5 million to creditors,” The Associated Press reported, noting that the company has promised to protect the data it currently stores.

I highly recommend reading the full story on griefbots from The Associated Press. I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time.


What I’m reading ...

Last week, Pew Research Center released a new report on culture war issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion and the legacy of slavery. Pew’s survey identified big divides between supporters of President Joe Biden and supporters of former President Donald Trump.

At the Paris Olympics this summer, on-site chaplains will do more than help athletes prepare for their events or cope with a crushing defeat. They’ll also help event organizers navigate tensions around faith-related political conflicts, including the Israel-Hamas war, according to The Associated Press.

If only I could write an opening paragraph like this one: “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain, the Ten Commandments tell us. But what if the Lord’s name is lining up at wide receiver?” It comes from an interesting story from The Forward about how Jews, who are not supposed to say the word “Adonai” outside of worship, should refer to new NFL receiver Adonai Mitchell.

Last but not least, my colleague Krysyan Edler wrote a heartwarming story about a man who got famous for balancing things on his chin. He’s a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and chooses not to do NBA or WNBA halftime performances on Sundays due to his faith.


Odds and ends

I was very moved by last week’s events commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Here are two of my favorite videos from the ceremony in Normandy: