If a future alien invasion force turns out to be led by a clone of George Washington, it’s our own fault.
Granted, that would be the most unlikely outcome of a space shot aimed at sending hair samples from America’s first president — and from Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan — into space.
The samples, which contain pieces of DNA, are to be included on the Houston-based Celestis’ Enterprise Flight, a commemorative space mission that will also transport DNA and cremated remains of the late astronaut Philip Chapman, Star Trek celebrities and numerous Celestis Customers. The time capsule will be launched later this year as a secondary payload aboard United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, eventually landing in stable orbit around the sun.
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Here is a video of the Enterprise Flight made before the mission was moved from 2022 to 2023:
“Our Enterprise Flight is a historic mission by every measure,” said Charles M. Chafer, co-founder and CEO of Celestis, in a press release today. “The overarching goal of Celestis is to support human expansion throughout the solar system. By adding the DNA of these American icons to Enterprise, we are creating a precursor to future human missions and adding to the historical record of human exploration of space.”
Celestis’ Presidents Day spotlight play uses two avenues to preserve the physical legacy of loved ones who have died. One has to do with hair: people have treasured strands of hair from loved ones for ages. Some have gone so far as to amass collections of celebrity hair — which may have added value in the current age of DNA analysis. For example, a lock of Marilyn Monroe’s hair, preserved from the university archives by John Reznikoff, was recently used to confirm the identity of the film star’s father.
The samples for Celestis’ mission came from another hair collection, originally owned by collector Louis Mushro, who died in 2014. An anonymous donor shared the President’s samples with Celestis to include in a space mission. They were kept in air-conditioned storage for several years in preparation for the Enterprise flight.
Which brings us to the second pathway to a form of immortality: For more than 25 years, Celestis has been collecting batches of cremated human remains, DNA samples, strands of hair, and other memorabilia that are sent into space aboard suborbital and orbital rockets. A mission even went to the moon. These batches of sample capsules, each about the size of a tube of lipstick, typically share a ride with larger payloads.
This year’s first Vulcan Centaur launch has the primary goal of sending Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander to the lunar surface with more than two dozen science experiments and other payloads (including another batch of Celestis capsules). The Vulcan rocket will also launch the first two prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation into low Earth orbit.
After the Centaur upper stage deploys the Peregrine lander, it is to fly, with samples of Celestis on board, into a safe orbit around the sun that avoids Earth.
“What a great honor to work with Celestis to launch these four distinguished US Presidents on our Vulcan launch vehicle,” said Tory Bruno, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance, in a statement.
In theory, the DNA in the cells attached to the strands of hair could be preserved in space for long periods, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years, as long as the samples are protected from space radiation. This means that spacefaring civilizations could theoretically restore the genetic code of the four Presidents in an age when biotechnology has advanced far beyond our current capabilities.
Could these future space travelers turn this code into clones? Science fiction pioneer Arthur C. Clarke thought so. Years before his death in 2008, Clarke donated a DNA-laden hair sample to send into space – and he will be featured on Celesti’s Tranquility Flight to the Moon.
“One day, a supercivilization might stumble upon this relic of the vanished species, and I might exist in another time,” Clarke said. Along with his hair, Clarke contributed a handwritten note consisting of three words: “Farewell my clone.”
If we believe that astronauts will be able to figure out how to play a gold disc, it might not be so far-fetched to imagine that they could figure out how to make a copy of George Washington. Let’s just hope he’s on our side.