Former NASA Investigator On The Hunt For Missing Moon Rocks
In December 2011, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin issued a report stating that more than 500 pieces of moon rocks, meteorites, and other debris from space were either stolen or have been missing since 1970.
Now, a Houston lawyer is on a mission to identify and possibly recover many of these rare treasures. The moon rocks he is on the hunt for were brought back to Earth and then subsequently lost after being loaned to scientists, museums and agencies throughout the world.
The samples were initially collected by a dozen American astronauts who walked on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. The lunar treasure was transported to Earth and then sometime later, many were either loaned or given to museums and scientists for research. The samples range everywhere from small dust particles to tiny pebbles.
Some lunar samples even went to individual US states and its territories, the United Nations, and some countries, and many of those samples have gone missing over the years.
“We’re educating the states and countries of the world about how much they’re worth on the black market, and we need to increase the security in museums and put them back on display,” Joe Gutheinz told Mochael Graczyk of the Associated Press (AP). Joe Gutheinz, is a Houston lawyer, former NASA investigator, and also teaches college classes in investigative techniques.
“A lot of them are in storage. And we need to put them in an inventory control system. And that’s what’s really lacking,” he added.
Gutheinz said he gets calls from people from time to time saying they have this “moon rock and his father or her father died and was a scientist.” When they ask him what do they do with it, he tells them: “Give it back to NASA.”
In the three years NASA had sent lunar landing missions, nearly 842 pounds of lunar material was collected and brought back to Earth. That included 2,196 individual rock, soil and core samples. Those 2,196 samples have subsequently been split into more than 140,000 sub-samples, according to NASA.
Back then, NASA was not concerned about where the lunar samples might be headed, because they believed they would continue to send men to the Moon and retrieve more samples. But in 1972, astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan were the last two men to set foot on the Moon during the Apollo 17 mission, thus ending the supply of samples.
In 1998, Gutheinz was responsible for a NASA sting that intercepted a $5 million sale of lunar rock that President Richard Nixon gave to the government of Honduras after the last Apollo mission.
Of the 270 lunar samples given out to nations around the world as gifts, Gutheinz said 160 are unaccounted for, many lost or stolen. And another 24 rocks gifted to US states are also missing. He and his students from his classes have so far directly or indirectly been responsible for recovery of 79 lunar samples since 2002.