Virgin Sends Ancient Human Ancestor Fossils to Space
For the first time in history, fossils of ancient human ancestors have been sent into space as a tribute to the contribution of all human and ancient human ancestors to the highest gesture of human exploration and technological advancement - space travel.
This was reported by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
According to the announcement, the fossils of the South African hominin species Australopithecus sediba, dating back two million years, and the hominin species Homo naledi, dating back 250,000 years, were launched during Virgin Galactic's third commercial spaceflight, carrying astronaut Timothy Nash, a South African native.
Traveling aboard the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, VSS Unity, the two fossils, safely stored in a carbon fiber container, were launched from Spaceport America on the mothership VMS Eve to an altitude of 45,000 - 50,000 feet (13.7 - 15 km).
On board VSS Unity was a clavicle (collarbone) from a typical sediba specimen, the first remains of the extinct species discovered by Matthew Berger in 2008 when he was nine years old at Malapa, not far from Johannesburg. Sediba was recognized as a potential candidate species for the origin of our own genus, Homo. The second fossil was a bone from a Homo naledi finger, found in the Rising Star cave system, another cradle of humanity.
"This expedition is a tribute to science and discovery and signifies the opportunity to link our past with our future. From the exploration of deep human origins underground to the technological progress that takes us to the edge of space, this moment transcends time and space and, more importantly, offers hope for what the future may hold," says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi (FRS), a nuclear physicist and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, where the fossils are curated.
As the South African government's representative agency responsible for preserving and conserving objects within the boundaries of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Cradle of Humankind" and for attracting global attention to the importance of this heritage, Matthew Satekge and the Chief Executive Officer of Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and Dinokeng Projects in the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, said they were excited to observe the inspiring journey of these fossils from South Africa to space.
The fossils were handed over to Nash by Matthew Berger at a brief ceremony just before the flight, and Nash transported them during the spaceflight.
The fossils, along with memorabilia from the flight, are intended to be displayed in museums and institutions across Africa and around the world upon their return to South Africa.