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Moon NASA Space Science

NASA Missing Hundreds of Moon Rocks 132

Posted by Soulskill
from the maybe-you-should-go-get-more dept.
New submitter Minion of Eris writes "It seems NASA can't keep track of its goodies. A recent audit discovered that moon rocks have been missing for 30 years, loaned displays have gone unreturned, and book-keeping has been generally poor. From the article: 'In a report issued by the agency's inspector general on Thursday, NASA concedes that more than 500 pieces of moon rocks, meteorites, comet chunks and other space material were stolen or have been missing since 1970. That includes 218 moon samples that were stolen and later returned and about two dozen moon rocks and chunks of lunar soil that were reported lost last year. NASA, which has lent more than 26,000 samples, needs to keep better track of what is sent to researchers and museums, the report said. The lack of sufficient controls "increases the risk that these unique resources may be lost," the report concluded.'"
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NASA Missing Hundreds of Moon Rocks

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:13PM (#38318418) Journal
    Yeah so these things are worth millions of dollars (to collectors and researchers alike) and you call them "missing"? Perhaps 'stolen' would be a better word considering the worth of these rocks. Also, I can't believe that the story of the Texan intern who stole and sold lunar samples from NASA and then had sex on top of them with his girlfriend [wikipedia.org] so that they were the first people to have sex on the moon was left out of this article.

    I'm guessing they're not missing but rather have long been stolen and sold on the black market.
  • by NReitzel (77941) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:47PM (#38318824) Homepage

    So, out of eight hundred kilos of moon rocks, some beancounter at NASA is having apoplexy about a half-kilo of rocks not having proper paperwork to document where they have gone?

    He's right. These samples are unique. As long as the bureaucrats rule, NASA doesn't have a chance in Hell of going back and collecting another 800 kilos of rocks. This guy knows that these samples are irreplacible becasue he knows that NASA will never be able to do what they did back when engineers called most of the shots.

    Let him rant. Just like rare earth metals, in a few years we will be able to buy all the moon rocks we want, from the Chinese.

  • by squidflakes (905524) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:49PM (#38318870) Homepage

    Short answer: of course.

    There was a bar near the Johnson Space Center in Houston called The Outpost. It was torn down this year, but when the place was jumping you had a reasonable chance of finding some old guy who would be happy to show you his collection of space artifacts, including lunar samples.

  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday December 09, 2011 @05:07PM (#38319046)

    I did an internship with a space industry contractor in the summer of 2005 and worked alongside their DBAs, mostly working on the database that was being used for inventory management. Partway through the summer, the lab in charge of the lunar material contacted the group I was working with regarding an update to their database. They wanted to migrate everything they had from the, I believe, late '70s DEC machines that they were still running with a hierarchal database system I had never heard of (I recall seeing some output that looked vaguely COBOL-like) to MS SQL Server 2000. There had been a failed attempt to migrate to FoxPro sometime in the early '90s, from what I heard, but they had scrapped it and just stayed with what they had in the end. At the time they were calling us, they were worried that something might fail and that they'd lose it all.

    In order to better understand their organizational system, we got to don bunny suits and head into the vault where all of the samples are kept at Johnson Space Center. It was pretty fun getting a chance to go around, peek into cabinets, and just see how it was all stored in perfect condition. Since the samples they loan out to scientists need to have their origins tracked and new samples are created by breaking old ones, the samples are labeled with an increasingly long identifier as they are broken down. To give a quick (and slightly oversimplified) example, an initial sample brought back from the moon may have been labeled A. After it was broken in two, the two samples were A-1 and A-2. When the first one was broken in three, it became A-1-a, A-1-b, and A-1-c. Each of those is referred to as a sample, even though they may have originated from a single sample, and since samples can be created outside of the immediate vicinity of NASA's personnel, it's not really surprising that some samples have gone missing. Hell, NASA requires that every speck of dust be returned as a sample as well.

    At the time, I think they had said that roughly 90 or 95% of the samples brought back are still in pristine, untouched condition, and are being preserved in a nitrogen-rich atmosphere to prevent oxidation. So even with all of these samples lost, the vast majority of it still exists and has yet to be studied by anyone.

    Also, I didn't realize it, but NASA has all of the samples that the Soviets brought back from the moon with their unmanned lunar missions. Those are kept in one part of the vault, separate from the ones retrived by the American missions. Neat little fact that I didn't know at the time that I went into the vault.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday December 09, 2011 @05:08PM (#38319056) Homepage

    People talk about NASA in the time of the Apollo program as a well oiled machine that could do no wrong. Well, here's evidence that it was a bureaucratic disaster. It's easy to look back with rose colored glasses and say the shuttle era was a mess, but in reality maybe it was always that way?

    Bureaucracies are always a mess. Strip the facade behind any complicated human activity and you will find confusion, graft, incompetence and sloth. NASA has 'lost' lots of things - Apollo tapes, pieces parts, data. They've made grevious engineering errors (ie, Apollo 1 [wikipedia.org]).

    Archival processes are very expensive and when you are more focused about doing things than preserving what you did, it isn't surprising that you can't account for everything.

One man's constant is another man's variable. -- A.J. Perlis

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