Friday, October 26, 2012

Giving to Lunar GoodWill


So I'm treadmilling in my gym, going through my routine with the TV console: avoiding commercials. Luckily, our slate of channels has news providers in a group: MSNBC, CNN, HLN, FOX, Bloomberg, all in a row. When one breaks to ads, I flip to the next one... unless talking heads on FOX start interrupting and shouting, in which case I give up and go lift weights.

And speaking of Moon Rocks...

Just kidding, I smirk at the bickering and consider myself fortunate not to be in politics. Anyway, I caught the end of a story about a bunch of folks looking in a garbage dump for a missing moon rock, and had to keep running until they cycled around again so I could hear the whole thing.

Get this! A former NASA Special Investigator named Joseph Gutheinz decided he would try to recover all the "Goodwill Moon Rocks" that were presented to all 50 states and over 100 nations by the Nixon Administration in 1973.

Each state received plaques with glittery lunar material encased in plexiglas orbs, just tiny samples of the 842 total pounds brought back by the Apollo explorers – but each is now worth about $5 million apiece. Imagine NASA’s surprise when some of them turned up on the black market!

Goodwill Moon Rock, Nevada
Nevada's Goodwill Moon Rock
Upper Inscription: "This fragment is a portion of a rock from the Taurus Littrow Valley of the Moon. It was part of a larger rock composed of many particles of different shapes and sizes, a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and mankind's hope for the future of peace and harmony."

Lower Inscription
: "This flag of your state was carried to the moon aboard the Apollo XVII Mission; December 7-19, 1972. Presented to the people of the State of Nevada by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."

In 1998, Gutheinz went undercover in Operation Lunar Eclipse, to find people selling fake moon rocks… but in 1998, they actually found someone trying to sell a real one – which turned out to be the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock.


Of the estimated 270 rocks presented as gifts, fully 215 were missing when they began searching. "Only" 91 are still missing now, and the search continues.

How did they pull that off? A college professor at the University of Phoenix, Arizona, Gutheinz assigned his students to track down various samples; they have discovered people and facilities who unknowingly had moon rocks stashed in all kinds of creative places.

One was even found in the possession of a former governor of Colorado, John Vanderhoof, who simply took the plaque home upon ending his term!  Vanderhoof, in 2010, stated he tried  to offer it to various museums, but no one was terribly excited about it, so he kept it in a display case in his home for years. It has since been moved to the Colorado School of the Mines Museum.

I've actually seen two of these up close: Georgia's rock at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta, and Texas' rock at the State Capitol in Austin.. but I was shocked to peruse the list of moon rocks that are still unaccounted for. CollectSpace notes those found, and those documented as gifts but still categorized as missing.  And we may never trust Ireland again, sheesh.

Do you know the current status of a fragment of any lunar sample? Write to!