What a long strange trip it’s been for some moon rock chips. If they’re real, they’re part of a limited supply of about 842 pounds of rock collected by U.S. astronauts in six missions between Apollo 11 in 1969 and Apollo 17 in 1972.
The moon rocks were “given by then-President Richard Nixon to former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, stolen by a Costa Rican mercenary soldier-turned Contra rebel, traded to a Baptist missionary for unknown items, then sold to a flamboyant Las Vegas casino owner who squirreled them away in a safety deposit box.”
2 years after the casino owners death, the moon chips have made their way back to NASA. How they disappeared is another story. The U.S. distributed 270 moon rock samples in the 1970s as a goodwill gesture to countries around the world. States received 100 samples and territories received six. The United Nations received a sample from the Apollo 11 mission. NASA has conceded it lost track of some of the 26,000 samples of moon rock and other space material loaned to researchers and museums. The agency inspector general said last December that more than 500 pieces were reported missing since 1970.
“In a sense, they’re worthless because you can’t sell them,” Joe Gutheinz, a retired NASA investigator and moon rock hunter, said. “But for people who love space, you can’t put a price on it.”
If the rock display is authentic, “NASA will return the rock to the people of Nicaragua.” Which is where the rocks are supposedly from.