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The Sciences

Whatever Happened To... Moon Rocks?

At least a quarter of our lunar souvenirs are now missing, presumably stolen and sold on the black market.

By Susan KruglinskiJuly 1, 2006 5:00 AM


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All in all, earthlings have retrieved a total of 843 pounds of rock and dust from the moon. Worth up to 10 times their weight in top-grade diamonds, most of these rocks are packed away in cabinets at government strongholds like the Johnson Space Center in Texas and the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. From there they are closely monitored, although they are lent out to schools, museums, and researchers.

But more than a few pebbles have gotten loose: A fistful of pea-size rocks were given away in the 1970s as gifts from the American government to each of the 50 states as well as to 135 other nations. It seems that not all the recipients tucked the gift away in a safe place, however. Experts fear that at least a quarter of those rocks are now missing, presumably stolen and sold on the black market.

Moreover, several envelopes full of moon dust have been lost in the mail during transit to research facilities. Just this past January, three rocks were swiped from a van en route to a Virginia elementary school, on their way to a show-and-tell. If you come across a wayward chunk of moon, don't try to cash in on it. In 2002 a NASA intern was sentenced to eight years in prison when he attempted to sell his stolen moon rocks on the Internet.

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