Moon rocks given to Nevada on display
December 16, 2013
RENO — Despite reports that they were long lost, moon rocks from two Apollo missions that were presented to the state of Nevada have gone on public display in Reno.
Specimens carried from space on the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions went on exhibit Friday for three months at the Keck Museum at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The tiny rocks are featured in plaques that include miniature Nevada state flags that made the trip to the moon on each mission.
The specimen from Apollo 17 in 1972 — the last manned mission to the moon — is about the size of a dime. The specimen from Apollo 11 in 1969 — the historic landing featuring Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — is nothing more than a bunch of tiny specks.
The rocks are on loan from the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, where they have gone on public display from time to time since they were presented to the state more than 40 years ago. Similar moon rocks and state flags were given to all 50 states.
Peter Barton, administrator of the Nevada Division of Museums and History, said a rumor has swirled for more than a decade that the moon rocks provided to Nevada and some other states were lost.
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But Nevada's moon rocks have never been missing, he said, and to prove the point, both were put on display last summer as part of a temporary exhibit at the state museum shortly after an online article reported they were lost.
"They haven't been on display here all the time, and I have a feeling because of that, it was assumed they were lost. It's a myth that they were ever lost," said George Baumgardner, curator of natural history at the museum.
Joseph Gutheinz Jr., who went undercover in 1998 as a senior special agent with NASA's Office of Inspector General to recover a moon rock for Honduras, said most moon rocks given to other nations by Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon have been stolen or are missing. Some moon rocks given to states met similar fates, he said, and three governors took them home when they left office.
The asking price for the 1.142 gram of Apollo 17 moon rock gifted to Honduras was $5 million, and NASA experts concluded that price was reasonable, he added. While it's illegal for individuals to possess moon rocks, some have been sold on the Internet or black market.
Nevada's two moon rocks "would be valued, conservatively, at $10 million," he wrote by email. "I am curious as to how much security the university intends to use to protect these Nevada state and U.S. treasures."
Garrett Barmore, administrator of the Keck Museum, declined to discuss specifics but said the museum's security measures met with the approval of state officials.
He said the display will allow the public to feel a connection to the golden age of space exploration.
"We're excited to share this exhibit with the public. This is the first exhibit of its type in 20 years," Barmore said, adding the moon rocks will be accompanied by several meteorites found in Nevada.