On January 6, 1998, the Lunar Prospector mission launched. A spacecraft designed to orbit the Moon, the Lunar Prospector’s objective was to try and determine if there was water on the Moon. Though the mission was technically unmanned, there was someone on board.
Dr. Eugene Merle Shoemaker, a planetary geologist known for discovering comets and asteroids (he had 32 comets and 1,125 asteroids to his credit), was the primary researcher for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Apollo Moon project. Shoemaker taught astronauts about craters, but what he really wanted was to be an astronaut. Although he tried to become one, he was denied admission to the astronaut corps because of a health condition. “Not going to the Moon and banging on it with my own hammer has been the biggest disappointment in life,” he once said.
On July 18, 1997, Shoemaker died in car accident. To honor his life spent studying space and his lifelong dream to go to the Moon, NASA decided to use the Lunar Prospector mission to fulfill Shoemaker’s last wish. On July 31, 1999, after completing its research, the Lunar Prospector impacted the south pole of the Moon in a controlled crash. On board was some very special cargo: Dr. Shoemaker’s ashes.
Not only did Dr. Shoemaker finally get to the Moon, he holds a particular distinction—to date, he is the only person to ever have been buried there.