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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) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:13PM (#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.
    • Not all were stolen. http://news.yahoo.com/former-resident-sues-claim-alaska-moon-rocks-071955850.html [yahoo.com]

      If this is a real moon rock someone just threw it away at one point. One person's valuable rock worth millions is another thing you can just pick up outside.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Not all were stolen. http://news.yahoo.com/former-resident-sues-claim-alaska-moon-rocks-071955850.html [yahoo.com]

        If this is a real moon rock someone just threw it away at one point. One person's valuable rock worth millions is another thing you can just pick up outside.

        It's all probably very Gary Larson-esque - the fat kid with the crew cut and circular glasses, who cleans up at night, swept them up and put them all in the bin. Nobody likes an untidy lab.

        The only Moon rocks I've seen were already cut in very fine slices and placed in plastic holders. So moon "rocks" may be imprecise, Moon Samples is probably better.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why don't they just get ILM to make them some new ones?

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Why don't they just get ILM to make them some new ones?

        Pfft. ILM can't do a decent rock to save their lives. Not only does the first one come out with a lot of unknown minerals, except one old salt who hasn't done nowt in years, but the others are spread out over years and years and then there's a big break while the ones they've already made get a bit spiffed up unecessarily, but then the pre-rocks come out and nobody even likes them, including the green one, which everyone says reflects poorly on a certain bit of strata.

        Don't even get me started on Dreamwor

      • by kimvette (919543)

        They would probably just replace the rocks with potatoes.

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080684/trivia [imdb.com]

    • by warrax_666 (144623) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:49PM (#38318866)

      I'm sure there are billions and billions of moon rocks out there.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I wouldn't trust much from someone trying to sell a book. The article I read said it was three and half ounces of rock.
    • by blair1q (305137)

      Want to solve the problem?

      Do just one mission to go to the moon and bring back a few tons of the stuff, then scatter them around the planet.

      Sell grains of moon dust for $1 each.

      Stop pretending they're magical and reduce them to the dirt they are.

    • 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

      That's one space age way to get your rocks off.

  • by sound+vision (884283) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:14PM (#38318430) Journal
    I think it's more of the lack of a sufficient space program that'll lose us "unique resources."
  • I know where they are, the Elves took them.

    • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:31PM (#38318670) Journal

      Nah, we learned that moon regolith is the perfect material for shooting a portal gun at. Quoth Cave Johnson:

      Welcome to the enrichment center. Since making test participation mandatory for all employees, the quality of our test subjects has risen dramatically. Employee retention, however, has not. As a result, you may have heard we're gonna phase out human testing. There's still a few things left to wrap up though - first up, conversion gel. Now, the beancounters told me we literally could not afford to buy $7 worth of moon rocks, much less 70 million. Bought 'em anyway. Ground them up, mixed them into a gel, and guess what: ground-up moon rocks are pure poison.

      Clearly that's where it all went.

  • Simple solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:18PM (#38318484)

    Go get more. The reason nobody was paying much attention in the 1960's is that they never expected the supply of moon rocks would dwindle. We need to maintain permanent residence whatever we go. We went to the moon, we need to establish a base there. If we go to mars, we need to establish a permanent base there too. If we don't force ourselves down this path, we're never going to get off this rock.

    • If we don't force ourselves down this path, we're never going to get off this rock.

      There will probably never be large numbers of people living anywhere but here on Earth. The notion that mankind has a "destiny in space" is a false hope at best and a potentially dangerous distraction if we permit it to interfere with needed steps to preserve our planet for future generations. For those interested in the details, may I suggest the following two articles from Do the Math [ucsd.edu]: Galactic-Scale Energy [ucsd.edu] and Why Not Space? [ucsd.edu]

  • Anybody has cared to check the vacuum's bags?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Correct me if I am wrong, but 500 out of over 26k samples is a very very small portion of the samples they have. While I am sure the value, both financially and as to how they could contribute to science, could vary greatly between each individual sample, this doesn't appear to be some terrible blundering of recordkeeping.

  • "increases the risk that these unique resources may be lost," the report concluded.'" There are a few million lbs where we got these...lets just go back and get some.....
  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:28PM (#38318626)

    is it?

    Back in the 1960's they had to start with a clean board and design the technology in less than a DECADE to fulfill the promise made by a dead president.

    Now we have the knowhow, we have the technology, what's the single insurmountable obstacle to returning to our nearest solar neighbour?

    Politics.

    It's not even as if the technology has been locked away and forgotten, either. NASA's new launch vehicles will have first stage boosters based on the J2 engines. The manned capsules will be based on the Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Mercury-Atlas and Gemini booster stages are still in use for heavy lifting high-risk and military payloads. It just seems a sad waste to me, that such high adventure was shitcanned so fast after all those "firsts" - landing on the Moon, walking on the Moon, driving on the Moon, playing golf on the Moon. Was all that really done just to piss off the Russians? I have a difficult time putting it down to merely that. Our destiny is in space. We shouldn't let petty disagreements over distribution of finite resources stand in the way of that, or we as a species will die in our crib.

    • by khallow (566160)

      NASA's new launch vehicles will have first stage boosters based on the J2 engines.

      The J-2X is intended for upper stage stuff.You're thinking of the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) which is a different beast.

    • Amen!
    • by steelfood (895457)

      what's the single insurmountable obstacle to returning to our nearest solar neighbour?

      Patrick Dempsey.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Actually, you have it backwards.

      The only way we could afford to do that then was politics.

      We were willing to spend anything to perform a circus stunt to one-up the rooskies.

      The cost of it was astronomical, and the psychological effect was that we believed we really could do anything we wanted. Then we tried to leverage it with 30 years of the shuttle program, but that just became another vast money sink that robbed us of the opportunity to do anything else, and the only thing we could think to do with it a

    • Our destiny is in space.

      Incorrect. Our destiny, whatever it may be, will be played out here on Earth. If you doubt that then the following two articles from Do the Math [ucsd.edu], Galactic-Scale Energy [ucsd.edu] and Why Not Space? [ucsd.edu], should make it clear that any promises of a "destiny in space" are false at best and may even be dangerous if they distract us from solving our pressing problems here on Earth.

    • Back in the 1960's they had to start with a clean board and design the technology in less than a DECADE to fulfill the promise made by a dead president.

      That's the urban legend. In reality, development of the F-1 engine (that ended up in the first stage of the Saturn V) got underway in 1956. Development of the Saturn family got underway in 1957. Development of the Apollo CSM got underway in early 1960. The first serious stabs at designing a LM got underway in early 1961.

      That's why Kennedy chose t

  • just as long as the government has a slightly better handle on where all the plutonium is (contemporaneous cold war artifact)

    i'm not too concered about escape dusty basalt

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "missing for 30 years"... "missing since 1970"... [current year: 2011] ...doesn't that mean that they've been missing for over 40 years?

    • Maybe the 30 years weren't consecutive. For example, they could gone missing in 1970, been found in 1985, and lost again in 1995.
  • by whatkey (2514316) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:30PM (#38318656)
    A government agency and insufficient internal controls? I'm actually surprised that the audit didn't turn up missing spacecrafts.
  • God knows, we won't be getting anymore at anytime soon, if ever. Better keep better track of whatever we have left.
  • huh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@cGINSBERGarpanet.net minus poet> on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:31PM (#38318662) Homepage

    Um... why would they report the number as "500" and include 218 samples that were "returned". Wouldn't those, by definition, no longer be "lost"?

    Thats nearly half.... so only 282 missing,

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Now you're understanding why they couldn't keep count before.

      • by TheCarp (96830)

        Touche, even worst, seems every one they did get back seems to weigh just a little less than half of what their records show in lbs.

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Um... why would they report the number as "500" and include 218 samples that were "returned". Wouldn't those, by definition, no longer be "lost"?

      Thats nearly half.... so only 282 missing,

      Seems the ability to keep track of things is rather infectious. Just reporting about it makes you get lost in a sea of "missing", "stolen", "borrowed", and "returned".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've worked for companies that, for book keeping reasons, would not let you as an employee take a single thing for personal possession. However, if an item was old and no longer usable, management would "turn a blind eye" if you walked out the door with it. Honestly, if it was large enough, they would help you usher it out the door.

    I know moon rocks aren't the same but I wonder how many items were "lost" to the hands of astronauts and key mission controllers because they frickin' changed the world in bei

  • My child at the ripe old age of 4, figured this one out. Hay NASA! Get up, off you lazy excuse ridden ass, and go get some more! Time Out! One Minute, if front of all your preschool friends! And stop wasting your parents time.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yeah, it's NASA's fault~

      Please explain to your son congress controls that, and tell him it's important to vote for people who understand how critical space exploration is.

      • Congress combined couldn't identify a space probe from the contents in a box of suppositories.

        I have to believe it is NASA's fault, they're smarter than we are, ask'em. For starters, ISS could be used as a space platform to assemble space vehicles, it's not. The moon has more Helium3 than common sense allows for; laying on the ground. One would think that after 50 years, there would more human presence on the moon than a foot print. Post Space Shuttle development? Looks like someone went to the baseme
  • .... Check eBay.
  • by NReitzel (77941) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:47PM (#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.

    • Yes the samples are unique, but so is any other rock. I had a million unique snowflakes melt on the top of my house yesterday!
      The real issue is what is this moon rock witch hunt costing the taxpayers, and to what end.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:48PM (#38318856) Homepage Journal

    ...where they came from

  • Why don't we sell or lease them and wipe out the deficit. Win Win for American public and capitalism.
  • Oh my God, look what happened to Apollo 18!!! Now my grandmother is going get attacked since I left that rock on her desk! Quick call the NSA
  • by Anonymous Coward

    From what I understand NASA was handing Moon Rocks out like party favors back during the Apollo missions because they though that space/moon travel was going to become commonplace. Unfortunately things changed and now these rocks are a precious commodity. Because they were handed out in such a cavalier manor I find this whole "they're government property" claim to be rather dubious. Its like some rich guy handing out hundred dollar bills while he's swimming in money, and when hard times hit he claims all

  • They had to make that conversion gel somehow.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have never understood why the United States does not have a Museum of the Moon - just for the moon and NOTHING ELSE. For God's sake, it's the only other planet people have walked on.
    All of the stuff we brought back from that other planet and all of the stuff we used to get there and back should be showcased for everyone in the world to see. The moon rocks should be right up there with the Constitution or Old Ironsides. Heck, those things should be enshrined like pieces of the True Cross. THIS IS THE BIGGE

  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:07PM (#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 c6gunner (950153)

      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.

      Wonder how that happened ...

      "Hey, anyone speak Russian? I've got a "Boris" on the phone here. I think he's saying something about trading rocks for a green card and a bottle of vodka ..."

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      It was probably FORTRAN. They do everything in FORTRAN. They like to pretend they don't anymore, but they still do.
      • I can confidently say that it wasn't FORTRAN. One of my earlier internships in the space industry had me learn FORTRAN for a weather modeling and meteorological app I was helping to support (I don't think they use FORTRAN much these days), which, strangely enough, has come up as being useful a number of other times (e.g. I later was the TA for the FORTRAN course the last semester it was offered at Texas A&M University). Plus, as I said, this was some output from a database, so it wasn't a programming la

        • by Greyfox (87712)
          I ran into the JPL's CSPICE library at work a while back. Turns out they just ran their SPICE library through a code converter, to convert the original FORTRAN into C. I don't get the feeling it was all that long ago (Mebbie a decade heh heh heh.) Looking at the public NGA GPS satellte ephemeris files, it kind of looks like they were barfed out by a FORTRAN program too, and are intended to be read the same way. It seems you can't go very far in that industry without running into something someone wrote in F
        • by tqft (619476)

          ADABAS ?

          • Unlikely. As I said, I don't remember much, but I believe they were DEC machines, which Wikipedia doesn't mention as being supported by ADABAS, and we were also going to have to write our own custom migration scripts since we couldn't just output some SQL files, which ADABAS can apparently do. I do recall that it was a hierarchal database, since that struck me at the time as unusual, given that I had only dealt with relational databases up to then.

    • by WWWWolf (2428)

      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.

      Ah, the migrations may have failed in the past, but we have the technology to do the sample management efficiently now! Simply replace the existing sample management system with Bitcoin technology. It works the exact same way! Plus, it wouldn't affect the actual worth of Bitcoin in any way. Everything would stay just as speculative!

  • googlephonics system.

  • That's what I'd say if I'd led the world to believe I brought back lots of rocks from the moon while they were in fact little moonturtles that simply escaped from my lab.

  • "Wanna see my moon rock? take a look at that!"
    "What do you mean it looks like a piece of gravel from the driveway?"
    "Where did i get it? off ebay, why?"

    end scene:
    So the whole point of having a moon rock is showing it off, like a diamond. The act of proving it's a moon rock (e.g. sending it to a lab for testing) would probably end with it being confiscated from you. If you can't prove it's a moon rock, it might as well be any old piece of gravel, of which we have trillions right hear on earth.

  • by pesho (843750) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:40PM (#38319444)
    I suggest NASA be immediately punished by being made to go back on the moon and get enough rocks to replace the ones they lost.
  • Well are they using them for anything or are they just sitting in warehouses gathering dust? Because I wouldn't feel too bad stealing a moon rock which isn't currently doing any good or garnering any attention in some box Raiders-of-the-lost-ark-style. If I knew they were actively being used for Science(tm) then I would be a whole lot more apprehensive about it.

    From the article:
    In two cases, one researcher still had nine lunar samples he borrowed 35 years ago and another had 10 chunks of meteorites he kept

  • Is NASA sure Edgar Mitchell doesn't have them, too?
  • by sourcerror (1718066) on Friday December 09, 2011 @05:12PM (#38319822)

    I'm just hoping they won't end in a litterbox.

  • Since 1970. That's 40, not 30, years.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sheesh

    Sell the damn things on ebay to pay for it.

  • There are lots more where those came from -- we should go get a few loads.
  • Maybe the Chinese can go get us some? (It saddens me that I can say this and it's not a troll.)

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