Keeping Track of Moon Rocks

Collecting Moon Rocks

When moon rocks were returned on the Apollo missions, they became the most valuable rocks on Earth—probably priceless. The unmanned Soviet Union Luna missions also returned with samples. In addition, a few moon rocks have been discovered that  journeyed to Earth as lunar meteorites.

Most of the 2,415 samples weighing 842 pounds of moon rocks were collected by Apollo 15, 16, and 17. Most are stored at the Lunar Curatorial Facility at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas with some stored at Brooks Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, placed there in case of loss of the Houston samples. Many small samples are also in the laboratories of researchers around the world. Other samples of moon rocks are on display in public museums.  Only three pieces can actually be touched—the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the Space Center Houston facility adjacent, and a loaner at the Museo de Las Ciencias at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Oldest Moon Rocks

Goodwill moon rocks were distributed by President Richard Nixon to 135 foreign heads of state, the 50U.S.states and its provinces. The fragments were presented encased in an acrylic sphere, mounted on a wood plaque which included the recipients flag which had also flown aboard Apollo 17.  Approximately 180 are currently unaccounted for. Many of the moon rocks that are accounted for have been locked away in storage for decades.  Some researchers and hobbyists have documented the presence, absence, and search for the Goodwill Moon Rocks. For fascinating stories about the search for the missing moon rocks check out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_and_missing_moon_rocks

Alaska Moon Rock

The most recent lost Moon Rock that’s been located is Alaska’s Goodwill Rock.  The rock had been lost after an arson fire in Alaska’s Transportation Museum in Anchorage in 1973.  Coleman Anderson, who now lives in Texas, sued for formal title to the rocks in December, 2010. If he doesn’t receive title, he’s asking to be compensated for the return of the rock and plaque he claims to have found in a pile of debris after the fire.

The lawsuit claims Anderson became owner of the plaque because the state had abandoned it.  According to the lawsuit, recovery efforts concluded days after the fire and remaining debris was declared garbage.  The lawsuit claims then 17-year-old Anderson, who was the stepson of museum curator Phil Redden, entered the debris area as crews removed garbage, discovered the moon rocks plaque covered by a layer of melted materials and took it home with the permission of his stepfather.

State officials, meanwhile, contend the moon rocks were stolen after the fire.The state contends that Anderson’s story “does not correspond with what our documentation shows.” Witnesses afterward saw the moon rocks plaque intact in its glass display case. Later, the display case was broken and the moon rocks and plaque removed, state officials said. Anderson has offered to sell them to the state at a discount.  Litigation is pending.

Tomorrow, Unmanned Explorations     Rita Bay

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