The Man In The Moon

Believe it or not, one man is buried on the Moon. His name is Eugene Shoemaker, and he pioneered planetary science.

Since time immemorial cultures all across the surface of the Earth have seen a face in the side of the Moon facing us. Curiosity getting the better of us, all sorts of legends and fables have been written about who the man in the Moon is and how he got there. Dante wrote that the fratricidal Cain was banished to the Moon. In Chinese traditions, the goddess of the Moon, Chang’e winds up on the moon after drinking an immortality elixir.

The first man on the Moon, however, was Neil Armstrong in 1969. He, along with the other astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission explored the lunar surface and collected sample to bring back to Earth. These samples were of particular interest to the man who would eventually end up interred on the Moon.

Eugene Shoemaker is often credited with inventing the field of planetary science. Trained as a geologist, Shoemaker melded his discipline with astronomy, using the great space race to study the surfaces of moons, planets, and comets. He trained the astronauts headed to the Moon, and even sat next to Walter Cronkite on air as NASA’s spokesperson on the status of the moon missions. He named many of the craters, valleys, and mountains on the Moon. His contributions proved so great that he even has a whole comet named after him. In 1994, Comet Shoemaker—Levy 9 gained worldwide attention because it crashed into Jupiter. This impact eventually led to scientists realizing that Jupiter acted as an important “vacuum cleaner” for debris that could otherwise pose a threat to the Earth.

Shoemaker spent much of his later life trekking across the globe to find impact craters that had gone unnoticed. Tragically, one of these trips ended in a fatal car crash. Eventually, Shoemaker’s ashes were sealed in a metal cylinder and sent to the Moon. His wife, Carolyn, who had made many discoveries alongside her husband had an image of the Hale-Bopp comet inscribed on the outside, along with a 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.

comet hale—bopp

Since his ashes were interred on the Moon, Shoemaker has remained the only person ever buried on an extraterrestrial surface. Though many companies have offered space burials inspired by science fiction shows like Star Trek, most of these capsules are launched into low Earth orbit. These ashes end up falling into the atmosphere soon after and burn up. Elysium Space, however, wants to send people’s ashes all the way to the Moon, so that they’ll stay in space. The asking price is around ten thousand dollars, which actually matches the average cost of a normal funeral in the United States.