Friday, December 9, 2011


AFP - Researchers have sticky fingers when it comes to NASA's moon rocks and meteorites, and hundreds of samples have gone missing after being loaned out by the US space agency, an audit said Thursday.

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin issued a report detailing foibles such as the US space agency making loans to researchers who never used the samples, or simply losing track of rare pieces dating back to the first US trip to the Moon in 1969.

"According to NASA records, 517 loaned astromaterials have been lost or stolen between 1970 and June 2010," said the report.

Astromaterials include Moon rocks and soil; meteorites from asteroids, Mars, and the Moon; ions from the outer layers of the Sun; dust from comets and interstellar space; and cosmic dust from Earth's stratosphere.

"These samples constitute a rare and limited resource and serve an important role for research and education," it added.

"Specifically, we found that NASA records were inaccurate, and that researchers could not account for all samples loaned to them and held samples for extended periods without performing research or returning the samples to NASA."

NASA needs a better tracking system and should do an annual inventory to stop unnecessary sample loss, the audit said.

"NASA concurred with our recommendations and promised to take corrective action," it added.

As of March, NASA had more than 26,000 samples on loan, of a collection that totals 140,000 lunar samples, 18,000 meteorite samples and 5,000 solar wind, comet, and cosmic dust samples.

NASA has admitted to losing such materials in the past. One researcher lost 18 lunar samples in 2010.

In 2002, 218 samples from the Moon and meteorites were stolen from Johnson Space Center in Houston but later returned.


A NASA picture taken in 1972 shows a close-up view or "mug shot" of Apollo 16 lunar sample no. 68815, a dislodged fragment from a parent boulder. Researchers have sticky fingers when it comes to NASA's moon rocks and meteorites, and hundreds of samples have gone missing after being loaned out by the US space agency, an audit said Thursday.


  1. And yet most of them look so ordinary, no one would know they were moon rocks. At least that's what I thought when looking at them . . .

    Funny to think--why people steal what they steal.

  2. It is really interesting to think about larceny -- why and how people commit it and justify it (if they even bother to) to themselves. When I was an Assistant D.A. in Brooklyn, I thought about it a lot. Then when Napster came on the scene, larceny became highly relevant in both my and my wife's careers. A funny larceny variation is the feeling I have when Caroline and I absolutely know what each other is thinking. I find myself feeling -- keep out of my head -- those are my thoughts. It's odd to read this the day after Jon Corzine testified about the missing $1 billion + dollars in Congress. I'm surprised and annoyed that NASA doesn't take better care of its property. They do certain other things so well. Curtis

  3. It turns out that NASA throws out A LOT of material. Stupid amounts, as in your John Buchan post for today 10 Dec--except that they also throw out the cigars, too, and the plans for them. I would not be terribly surprised if...

  4. When I first joined 20th Century Fox, I was given a studio tour by a rueful young man who explained to me the number of interesting and potentially valuable (both from a historical perspective and, possibly, a commercial one) items the studio had discarded over the years. It was actually kind of scandalous. When I was a lawyer there, we spent some energy on trying to crack down on the use of this type of material by "pirates." Other time, when the studio was involved in restoration work, we sought out these same people who were now considered "collectors." This is one area where I think both public and private sector entities could improve through judicious planning and well-executed practice. Curtis