'Moon Rock Hunter' on quest to track down Apollo gifts

phys.org | 7/20/1969 | Staff
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After Neil Armstrong took a "giant leap for mankind" on the Moon nearly 50 years ago and collected rocks and soil along the way, Richard Nixon presented lunar souvenirs to every nation—135, at the time.

Dozens of the "goodwill" moon rocks—some only the size of a grain of rice, others as big as a marble—have since gone missing, and Joseph Gutheinz Jr is on a mission to find them.

NASA - Agent - Moon - Rock - Hunter

The 63-year-old retired NASA special agent is the "Moon Rock Hunter."

"Some people go rock hunting," Gutheinz said in an interview with AFP at his law office in a Houston suburb decorated with awards from NASA and the US military. "I go Apollo-era rock hunting."

Apollo - Goodwill - Moon - Rocks

What happened to the Apollo goodwill moon rocks?

Gutheinz's quixotic quest to track down missing moon fragments intersects with the coups, wars, assassinations and other political turmoil of the past half-century.

Libyan - Moon - Rocks - Gone - Gutheinz

"The Libyan moon rocks? Gone," Gutheinz said. "Afghanistan's? Gone."

The journey features a colorful cast of characters—from a Texas billionaire and a Honduran army colonel to a Las Vegas casino mogul, not to mention the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and the Ceausescus of Romania.

Gutheinz - College - Courses - Addition - Law

Gutheinz, who teaches college courses in addition to practicing law, retrieved one moon rock himself through an undercover sting operation. His criminal justice students have located 78 others as class assignments.

Beginning with Apollo 11, which landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and ending with Apollo 17, in December 1972, US astronauts collected 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil.

Moon - Rocks - Apollo - Country - US

Moon rocks collected by Apollo 11 and 17 were given to every country and the 50 US states.

Encased in clear Lucite, they were affixed to a wooden plaque that featured a miniature flag of the recipient nation, which had been flown to the Moon.

Hands - Collectors

Some have been stolen, ending up in the hands of private collectors who...
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