September 22nd, 2009 09:42 EST
Moon Rocks: The Ultimate Souvenir?
There is recently renewed discussion of a manned moon mission, perhaps, as a precursor to a manned mission to Mars. Putting aside technical questions (since I know nothing about them) and financial ones, I think something must be debated earnestly before we go any further down this road. What are we going to do with any rocks we bring back?
Following the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions, the only two manned missions to the moon, the US brought back around 270 rocks, according to a recent AP report. These rocks were distributed to the 50 states and various countries of the world. The Apollo 11 "rocks" were the size of a grain of rice, on average, pebbles of the type you might get in your shoe and hardly notice, while the "17" rocks were 1 gram or so, that is to say, big enough to be somewhat visible. I can`t verify this but the rumor is that some countries were also given T-shirts that read "We went to the moon and all you got was this lousy pebble!"
Which countries got the rocks? There weren`t enough to go around, based on the number. Which were left out? Did we give any to the Soviet Union? That would have been more of an insult than a souvenir, I guess. Did allies get bigger rocks than neutral countries? Did the astronauts bring back a specific number of rocks or did they just scoop up some and count them when they got back to earth? I could have looked into these questions, of course, but it is much easier to ask them and leave them up in the air.
The AP report continued that recent efforts to verify the location of the gift rocks, led by Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Phoenix instructor with way too much time on his hands, has been largely unsuccessful. Some countries, notably Ecuador and Cyprus, played dumb and denied ever receiving rocks. If we do go back and get more, they can be left off the list.
Others have suffered disappearing rocks. Romania`s disappeared after Ceausescu was overthrown. I guess in the midst of violent revolution, no one bothered to keep an eye on the pebble. Afghanistan`s rock disappeared in 1996 when the national museum was ransacked. Pakistan`s is also missing as is Nicaragua`s following the Sandanista`s coming to power. When there is national crisis, people tend to lose interest in moon pebbles. How inconsiderate? No more rocks for unstable regimes!
Several African dictators as well as Franco in Spain pocketed their rocks and when ousted from power, took it with them into oblivion. No rocks for dictators!
Malta`s was stolen as was Honduras`(eventually recovered) causing Gutheinz to suggest there is a thriving black market in moon rocks, often drawing up to six figures. That does it!
If we do go back to the moon, let`s not bring back any rocks, pebbles, stones, boulders, or any other debris that no other countries really want anyway. Let`s go whole hog and gather up all the moon rocks we can find, and bring them back to the moon. They weren`t doing anyone any harm as long as they were just pebbles up there!