Why Are NASA’s Moon Rocks Disappering?

When we think of the amount of effort that went into capturing a tiny chunk of the moon, the wealth is quite a sight to see.  The Apollo program resulted in hundreds of pounds of the tiny rocks being brought back to Earth for the public, but a significant number of them have gone missing – or have been outright stolen since then.  NASA recently reported that it hopes to increase its inventory controls to afford better mastery over the samples returned to Earth after studying the rocks lost.

An estimated 500 pieces of lunar rock have joined other samples form space and gone missing.  And if it seems like it would be an impossible or unworthy venture to keep track of the rocks, consider how valuable the rocks can be valued at.  In 1993, for example, a tiny fraction of a gram worth of lunar rock was sold for $442,500.  Later, in 2003 several samples were recovered from a cache stolen from one of NASA’s safes – estimated to be worth a conservative million dollars for 242 grams, despite the fact that the rock value had not deflated significantly.  The disparity between the two is notable to say the least, since the 242 grams would have sold for an estimated $535,425,000 if sold at the same rate of the former sold in 1993.

The Space Agency says, however, that 517 of its samples have either disappeared or been outright stolen – in the latter case the rocks are often recovered.  And of the samples that have been loaned out by NASA, up to 19% have disappeared.  Sounds like one giant whoops for mankind.  The audit considered that some of the rocks that had disappeared could have been through honest mistakes, but one has to wonder if someone is trying to make a killing on missing moon rocks by selling their ill gotten gains once brought back to Earth by heroes.

But the rocks themselves are of little interest if they are kept under lock and key forever, and the educational potential they each hold is boundless, with some researchers standing in line for years just to get a chance to look at one.  Nonetheless, sometimes these researchers retire unbeknownst to NASA, leaving a bureaucratic mess behind when they try to recover them from the belongings left behind – and sometimes discarded.  And so of course it’s only likely that somewhere hidden in the heaps of garbage at several undisclosed landfills there are somewhere hidden moon rocks worth millions along with a legacy of space exploration that thrives even today – although it may take some digging to find it.

What is NASA’s plan for the future?  The audit conveys a sincere interest in the continued use of moon rocks, but also suggests that the stones will have to come with increased security and checkpoints to ensure more of the moon rocks do not suddenly go missing.  And while many have disappeared, NASA has still done a considerably good job at keeping most of its samples secure.