Nasa / Space

Geek Trivia: How many Apollo Goodwill Moon Rocks have gone missing?

Precisely 270 prepared lunar rock samples were distributed as part of the Goodwill Moon Rocks program. Four decades later, no one can account for a significant number of those rocks.

The Apollo program, for all its inspirational accomplishments and technical achievements, was a servant of two masters. The first was a pure scientific enterprise, to learn as much as possible about Earth's only natural satellite and to push the boundaries of human spaceflight. The second was political, with Apollo acting as the most compelling (and perhaps most garish) symbol of American technical prowess, industry, courage, and will.

This dichotomy is embodied by the Goodwill Moon Rocks program.

A case can be made that no field of study benefitted more from Apollo than the science of geology. Of the approximately 430 kilograms of known lunar materials on Earth, Apollo astronauts obtained roughly 382 kg. The vast majority of those samples have been used to further our understanding of planetary formation, geochemistry, and the physical history of our solar system. However, not all of those moon rocks were recovered in the name of science.

Specific lunar samples from Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 were earmarked as -- how shall we say -- political souvenirs. Precisely 270 prepared lunar rock samples were distributed as part of the Goodwill Moon Rocks program, most of them going to the 50 U.S. states and a number of foreign countries as tokens of appreciation for support of Apollo, NASA, and U.S. interests. The recipients were charged with keeping custody of perhaps the rarest and most valuable artifacts ever distributed for diplomatic purposes.

Four decades later, no one can account for a significant number of those 270 nigh-irreplaceable moon rocks.

HOW MANY APOLLO GOODWILL MOON ROCKS HAVE GONE MISSING?

Get the answer.

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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

6 comments
dlrooky
dlrooky

Geology, strictly speaking, refers to the planet Earth (although it is becoming more common to use the term generically). The main beneficiary should really be selenology.

kpbarry
kpbarry

when thinking of creative ways to fund space exploration. Flooding the market with Moon rocks would drive the value down, but these days it would probably not cost nearly as much to send unmanned missions to the moon to collect rocks. A moon shot is much easier without worrying about keeping humans alive. Suppose there is a multi-billion dollar market out there. If a project could even reach break even revenues, it would be a win. More business for the space industry, economies of scale, research could be piggy backed on the rock collecting missions, etc.

tech
tech

Knowledge is priceless - if we did not go to the moon we would not have so many things we have today. We may one day be capable of deflecting an earth killer asteroid or solve complex environmental issues stemming from this knowledge. I generalize because if I begin to list items and knowledge gained I think the conversation could go off on a myriad of tangents.

victor.gutzler
victor.gutzler

I cringe whenever I hear about moon rocks, because it reminds me of the "lunacy" of the Apollo program's continual return to the moon and the only tangible profit being a box full of rocks (maybe if we had only found gold or diamonds or oil or something!). All of the effort, the heroism, the ingenuity, the money, just to bring back some old rocks. Moon rocks, a perfect testiment of the ultimate futility of man's vanity.

Robiisan
Robiisan

Almost every field of human endeavor benefitted from those rocks! But I have to admit, I'd probably sacrifice one testicle if someone could recover one of the Hasselblad cameras and lenses they left up there in exchange for the rocks' weight. All they brought back were the film magazines because the astronauts couldn't change rolls with those massive gloves on. :-)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

With the low Atmosphere the Blads are going to be in perfect condition for a very long time to come. There should be no corrosion on any of them and they should be in very good condition. While the camera's may suffer from leaking batteries the lenses would last forever there. ;) Col

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