The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

July 9, 2010

Missouri State Museum doesn’t have Apollo 17 rock

_ — COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The “goodwill” moon rock given to Missouri nearly 40 years ago is, indeed, missing.

In May, the Missouri State Museum claimed the rock was safe and sound in the basement of the state Capitol, not lost as reported in a story from The Record of Hackensack, N.J., reprinted in the Tribune. Interim Director Linda Endersby e-mailed the Tribune photos of the lunar display to prove it.

Turns out, though, the photo was of rocks from the Apollo 11 mission — not the Apollo 17 moon rocks given as goodwill gifts to all 50 states and 135 foreign countries. Joseph Gutheinz, a former special agent with NASA’s Office of Inspector General, saw the photo and pointed out the discrepancy this week.

Unlike the Apollo 11 rocks, several small fragments encased together, the goodwill rock from Apollo 17 is a single rock encased in a glass globe.

Staff members were under the impression that the moon rocks display they photographed contained the presumed missing rock, said Judd Slivka, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the museum. Upon further review, he said, the museum has no record of the goodwill rock.

“There’s no record it was ever given to the museum,” he said. “It was given to the governor’s office. We have no idea where the Apollo 17 rock is.”

Kit Bond, now a U.S. senator, became Missouri’s governor three months before then-President Richard Nixon distributed the rocks in 1973. His spokesman, Jordan Clothier, said he asked Bond about the Apollo 17 rock and that Bond does not remember receiving it. Bill Phelps, who was Missouri’s lieutenant governor at the time, said he had a vague recollection of moon rocks but did not specifically remember the goodwill rock.

The state archives staff also checked, “and we have nothing in the governor’s papers from the Bond administration about a moon rock,” said Laura Egerdal, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Missouri and 14 other states can’t account for their goodwill moon rocks, according to a database at www.collectspace.com. For the past several years, Gutheinz — now a Texas attorney who teaches an online criminal justice course through the University of Phoenix — has had his students help locate the rocks. Last month, they tracked down missing goodwill rocks in West Virginia and Colorado, where both governors who were given the rocks in 1973 apparently took them when they left office.

It’s against the law for individuals to own moon rocks, but on the black market, the goodwill rocks are worth between $5 million and $10 million, Gutheinz said. Recipients were careless with them, in part, because they didn’t realize what they were getting, he said. No one in 1973 realized Apollo 17 would be the last manned mission to the moon, he said.

“They thought it was neat, but they didn’t enter it into any inventory control system in virtually any of the states,” Gutheinz said. “That’s why my students actively hunt these things down. If you don’t know you have something of immense value in your possession and no inventory control system, anybody can walk in and steal it. It’s absolutely the perfect crime. It’s sad. Missouri’s goodwill moon rock is apparently gone, and nobody who should know where the moon rock is has come forward.”

 

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