‘The peo­ple of the world de­serve this’

Moon rock hunter closes in on track­ing down miss­ing stones

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NATIONAL NEWS - Lind­say Whitehurst

SALT LAKE CITY — A strange thing hap­pened af­ter Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew re­turned from the moon with lu­nar rocks: Many of the me­men­tos given to ev­ery U.S. state van­ished. Now, af­ter years of sleuthing, a for­mer NASA in­ves­ti­ga­tor is clos­ing in on his goal of lo­cat­ing the where­abouts of all 50.

In re­cent weeks, two of the rocks that dis­ap­peared af­ter the 1969 mis­sion were lo­cated in Louisiana and Utah, leav­ing only New York and Delaware with un­ac­count­ed­for sou­venirs.

At­tor­ney and moon rock hunter Joseph Gutheinz says it “blows his mind,” that the rocks were not care­fully chron­i­cled and saved by some of the states that re­ceived them. But he is hope­ful the last two can be lo­cated be­fore the 50th an­niver­sary of the Apollo 11 mis­sion next sum­mer.

“It’s a tan­gi­ble piece of his­tory,” he said. “Neil Armstrong’s first mis­sion ... was to reach down and grab some rocks and dust in case they needed to make an emer­gency take­off.”

U.S. Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­sented the tiny lu­nar sam­ples to all 50 states and 135 coun­tries, but few were of­fi­cially recorded and most dis­ap­peared, Gutheinz said.

Each state got a tiny sam­ple en­cased in acrylic and mounted on a wooden plaque, along with the state flag. Some were placed in mu­se­ums, while oth­ers went on dis­play in state capi­tols. But al­most no state en­tered them into archival records, and Gutheinz said many lost track of them.

When Gutheinz started lead­ing the ef­fort to find them in 2002, he es­ti­mates 40 states had lost track of the rocks.

“I think part of it was, we hon­estly be­lieved that go­ing back to the moon was go­ing to be a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence,” Gutheinz said.

But there were only five more jour­neys be­fore the last manned moon land­ing, Apollo 17, in 1972.

Of the Apollo 11 rocks given to other coun­tries, about 70 per cent re­main un­ac­counted for, he said.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment also sent out a sec­ond set of good­will moon rocks to the states and other na­tions af­ter the Apollo 17 mis­sion, and many of those are miss­ing as well, he said.

NASA did not track their where­abouts af­ter giv­ing them to the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion for dis­tri­bu­tion, said chief his­to­rian Bill Barry, but added the space agency would be happy to see them lo­cated.

Gutheinz be­gan his ca­reer as an in­ves­ti­ga­tor for NASA, where he found il­licit sell­ers ask­ing mil­lions for rocks on the black mar­ket. Au­then­tic moon rocks are con­sid­ered na­tional trea­sures and can­not legally be sold in the U.S., he said.

He be­came aware while at NASA that the gifts to the states were miss­ing, but only be­gan his hunt af­ter leav­ing the agency.

Now a lawyer in the Hous­ton area, he’s also a col­lege in­struc­tor who’s en­listed the help of his stu­dents. The record their find­ings of the where­abouts of the dis­cov­ered moon gems in a data­base.

Many of the Apollo 11 rocks have turned up in some unex- pected places: With ex-gov­er­nors in West Vir­ginia and Colorado, in a mil­i­tary-ar­ti­fact stor­age build­ing in Min­nesota and with a for­mer crab boat cap­tain from TV’s Dead­li­est Catch in Alaska.

In New York, of­fi­cials that over­see the state mu­seum have no record of that state’s Apollo 11 rock. In Delaware, the sam­ple was stolen from its state mu­seum on Sept. 22, 1977. Po­lice were con­tacted, but it was never found.

The U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands ter­ri­tory, mean­while, can­not con­firm that they ever re­ceived a good­will rock, though the Univer­sity of the Vir­gin Is­lands later re­ceived Apollo 11 rocks for sci­en­tific re­search, said chief con­ser­va­tor Julio En­car­na­cion II.

In other states, though Gutheinz has re­cently hit pay­dirt. The Ad­vo­cate news­pa­per in Ba­ton Rouge lo­cated Louisiana’s Apollo 11 moon rock in early Au­gust af­ter a call from Gutheinz.

In Utah, the divi­sion of state his­tory had no record of the sam­ple, but The As­so­ci­ated Press con­firmed it was in stor­age at Salt Lake City’s Clark Plan­e­tar­ium.

Of­fi­cials there may bring it out as part of cel­e­bra­tions rec­og­niz­ing the Apollo 11 an­niver­sary next year, some­thing Gutheinz hopes to see ev­ery­where.

“The peo­ple of the world de­serve this,” he said. “They de­serve to see some­thing that our as­tro­nauts ac­com­plished and be a part it.”

Rick Bowmer/ AP Files

In this Aug. 23 photo, Lind­sie Smith, from the Clark Plan­e­tar­ium, holds moon rocks en­cased in acrylic and mounted on a wooden plaque at the Clark Plan­e­tar­ium, in Salt Lake City.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.