Wanna know how to buy a moon rock? Hint: black market

// September 25th, 2012 // Science

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Astronaut walking on the moonMoon rocks are rarely offered for sale. Sample moon rocks collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts are considered National Treasures, property of the United States government, and would never be sold to the public. They have however, been given away. Two hundred and seventy Apollo 11 Moon Rocks and Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rocks were given to the 50 U.S. states and 220 nations of the world in 1972 by the Nixon Administration as a goodwill gesture. One hundred and eighty (over half) are currently unaccounted for. It is suspected that several have already been auctioned off.

Collection of moon rocksPilfering of the moon rocks is a real problem. Several states have had their moon rocks “lost” only to turn up later in someone’s home. Former Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof, at age 88, admitted that he had one of the Colorado moon rocks in his personal possession and agreed to give it back to the State. Senator Kit Bond claimed he had no recollection of the state of Missouri ever receiving a moon rock from NASA only to be embarrassed when the moon rock was found amongst his personal possessions by his staff. West Virginia’s moon rock was found in ownership of dentist Robert Connor who explained that he obtained it from his deceased brother’s possessions. He noted that his brother had been a good friend of West Virginia governor Arch Moore. NASA has even had moon rocks stolen from their space center by interns (the book Sex on the Moon tells the story of the heist and takes its title from the tale of two of the thieves making love on a bed covered with the stolen moon rocks).

Organized groups of moon rock fanatics, some guided by NASA, actively lead systematic hunts for the missing moon rocks. Often times they are successful. A moon rock hunter found the missing Oregon moon rock in a desk drawer in the ceremonial Governor’s Office. Hawaii’s missing moon rock was discovered in a locked cabinet in the Governor’s office. Other rocks have been found in storage, presumably because nobody understood what they were.

One nation however, has sold moon rocks to the public. Three seed-sized pieces that were brought back from the Moon by a Russian robotic probe in 1970 were sold 30 years later for $442,500. Since nations that have reached the Moon are a very small club, the sale of moon rocks by a nation is extremely rare.

A genuine moon rockOther moon rocks have simply been accidentally tossed aside because, well, they’re rocks. The Apollo 11 moon rock presented to Ireland was accidentally tossed into a landfill after fire consumed the National Museum of Ireland and cleanup crews failed to recognize the rock for what it was (those silly fireman, trying to put out a fire by throwing rocks on it). Similarly, the Alaska moon rock was lost in a fire too and a crab fishing captain claims to have found it after scrounging through the remains of the fire. Using the “finders keepers” argument, he’s suing Alaska in an attempt to retain ownership of the rock.

Other than that, you have to hope one falls from the sky – and indeed they do! Lunar meteorites, meteorites known to have originated from the Moon, are sometimes launched to Earth from the Moon by impacts that create lunar craters. After leaving the moon, most lunar meteorites go into orbit around the Earth (some go into orbit around the Sun) and eventually succumb to Earth’s gravity. About one in every thousand newly discovered meteorites is a lunar meteorite.

In 2012, Heritage Auctions sought to auction off a lunar meteorite, known as Dar al Gani 1058, in an auction expected to exceed $380,000. The rock weighed 4 pounds and was the largest moon rock ever sold. When it comes to moon rocks, size really does matter.

 

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