Ancient Human Fossil Trip to Space Raises Questions and Criticism
On a bright Friday morning last week, a Virgin Galactic spacecraft travelled 88 kilometres above Earth to the edge of space. On board were two Virgin Galactic pilots, an instructor and three passengers — and the remains of two ancient-human relatives that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago in southern Africa.
Everyone aboard VSS Unity — including the hominin remains — landed safely an hour after take-off. But the fossils’ journey has drawn extraordinary rebuke from archaeologists, palaeoanthropologists and other researchers. They say that it was an unethical publicity stunt that put priceless hominin fossils at risk, raising questions about the protection of cultural heritage in South Africa, as a government agency signed off on the mission.
“To treat ancestral remains in such a callous, unethical way — to blast them into space just because you can — there’s no scientific merit in this,” says Robyn Pickering, a geologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
Other fossils — including dinosaur bones — have been taken into…