November 27, 2012
Minnesota’s Apollo 11 Moon Rocks Found In National Guard Storage Unit
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Hundreds of moon rocks that have been handed out to state governments and foreign countries through the years have gone missing, according to a NASA audit last December. Though some have been recovered, most are still missing. On a good note, another set of lunar pebbles were found this week in a government storage area in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The rocks were part of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on July 20, 1969 in which Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon. It is known that after the mission returned home, then-President Richard Nixon handed each state a piece of the moon that was collected on Earth´s neighboring natural satellite.
While the discovery of the missing rocks is a blessing, officials are at a loss to explain how they ended up in a dark corner of a government storage facility in St. Paul. The collection consists of a Minnesota state flag that was carried on the Apollo 11 mission along with five small encased pebbles. The rocks were found by officials from the Minn. National Guard on Monday and will be handed over to the state Historical Society on Wednesday during an official ceremony at Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration (STARBASE).
“The Apollo 11 moon rocks were found amongst military artifacts in a storage area at the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul,” said Army Maj. Blane Iffert, former state historian for the Minnesota National Guard. “When I searched the Internet to find additional information about the moon rocks, I knew we had to find a better means to display this artifact.”
Iffert said Minnesota shouldn´t feel too bad, though. Through research, he said he found that most of the moon rocks from the Apollo 11 and 17 missions were handed out by Nixon as goodwill gestures and many are still unaccounted for today. Authentic moon rocks are considered national treasures and therefore are protected from being sold in the US and elsewhere.
Maj. Kristen Auge of the Minn. National Guard said they had no clue whatsoever that the lunar rocks were hiding out in their storage area.
Pat Gaarder, deputy director for the Minn. Historical Society, told the Star Tribune: “We are honored to have this in our collection to preserve for future generations“¦It is also exciting to think that our collection includes artifacts from across the globe and now with these moon rocks, the galaxy.”
Minnesota was one of 12 states that were still missing their rock display, said Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Phoenix instructor and former NASA investigator who has been leading the effort to find the missing national treasures. It is important to find and recover these lunar samples from the first moon landing because in the wrong hands they can be sold on the black market and may be lost forever.
“To a collector, it's invaluable,” Gutheinz told the Associated Press. Gutheinz said his students have been searching for the Minnesota rocks since about 2002.
“Somebody in the National Guard there decided to do the right thing and rather than walk off with something that had a great value on the black market, said, ℠Hey, this doesn't belong to me,´” added Gutheinz.