The fortieth anniversary last year of the first moon landing by Apollo 11 stirred interest in the mineral artifacts brought back by that mission and the five others that reached the lunar surface. President Nixon, in the months after Apollo 11’s return, sent a number of moon rocks to governments abroad and gave a rock to each of the fifty states. After Apollo 17, the last mission, returned to Earth in December 1972, he arranged for moon rocks to be sent to the heads of state of 135 countries. At the time, no one knew that the rocks brought back would be the last ones to date.
Nearly 40 years later, it turns out that of the 135 rocks sent abroad, the whereabouts of only 25 can now be confirmed. Some of the others were stolen; others were lost by their recipients or by their descendants; and some simply vanished in political turmoil. (In other words, some may turn up on Ebay.)
To cite two such examples, General Francisco Franco of Spain received a moon rock; nowadays his granddaughter reports that her mother somehow misplaced it. And the moon rock sent to Afghanistan was stolen from the country’s national museum when it was looted in 1996, in the chaos between the withdrawal of Soviet forces and the savage rise of the Taliban.
In this country, the moon rocks have been more securely kept. But, as a graduate student tells us in this column from the Nashville Tennessean, while Georgia proudly displays its rock in a museum, the one in Tennessee has been the object of many theft attempts and so is hidden away under lock and key.