The DNA of Arthur C. Clarke just burned up on re-entry to Earth's atmosphere after a failed moonshot, while Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry's ashes are off to deep space

A render of Earth as seen from space.
(Image credit: Westend61 via Getty Images)

Update 01/22/2024: The original version of this article mistakenly referred to Arthur C. Clarke's ashes being on-board the Peregrine, but in fact it was his DNA. It also mistakenly placed Gene Rodenberry's ashes on the Peregrine lander rather than the Vulcan Rocket, which continues into deep space. Apologies for the error.

The DNA of science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke was on-board a private US lunar lander that, after a failed moonshot, re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Friday and burned-up on the way down. The vessel carried the DNA /ashes among those from around 70 individuals including former US Presidents George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy, as well as Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry, actors James Doohan (aka Scotty) and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura). Rodenberry's ashes were previously a part of a 1997 space mission.

Most of these are now on their way to deep space, having been enclosed on the Vulcan Rocket that initially launched the Peregrine lander. The latter contained 70 individual capsules, including the DNA of Arthur C. Clarke, with the intention they would remain encapsulated on the lunar lander on the moon's surface.

The DNA and the ashes and/or DNA of several notable figures including “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, “Star Trek” star Nichelle Nichols, and U.S. presidents George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, etc were all on Celestis’ Enterprise Flight which remained on board the Vulcan Rocket heading out to Deep Space

Astrobotic Technology's lunar lander Peregrine launched successfully from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Monday, but developed a fuel leak that made attempting the landing an impossibility. The firm reckons a stuck valve caused the issue. Astrobotics then had the unenviable task of working out what to do next and ensuring Peregrine didn't become a space hazard.

In cooperation with NASA the craft was guided back towards Earth and re-entered the atmosphere on Friday, somewhere over the South Pacific. As well as the ashes, the lander carried various NASA experiments and equipment (with the US space agency reportedly paying Astrobotic over $150 million).

An update yesterday noted Peregrine remained responsive, but at 3:50am EST on 19 January it "lost telemetry" as the lander re-entered Earth's atmosphere. "By responsibly ending Peregrine’s mission, we are doing our part to preserve the future," said the company in a statement.

Peregrine was America's first attempt at a lunar landing since the 1970s, and was also the first project done in concert with NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (which will use private companies to carry out work for NASA). 

"Space exploration is a learning game, especially at this stage and we shouldn't look at this as a failure; we should look at this as an incredible engineering success," said Sian Cleaver, industrial manager of the EU Orion spacecraft project. "At one point it was looking like this mission was doomed, but a team of engineers and scientists managed to work together and to problem solve and to restore some capabilities of the spacecraft and ultimately direct it back to Earth. I think that's actually pretty impressive.

"There's a lot that we can take away from this, but ultimately space travel is difficult and we're seeing that here."

It does seem, whatever the intentions, a fitting and somewhat poetic end for two giants of science fiction: one ever-reaching for the stars, the other returning for the final reunion with our little rock. 

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."