NASA Recovers Stolen Lunar Dust
A small amount of moon dust that was stolen after it was brought to Earth by the Apollo 11 mission has been recovered and returned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The lunar dust was part of the batch of moon rocks and dust the Apollo 11 crew brought back to Earth in July of 1969. The samples were stored at the Johnson Space Center and other NASA centers around the country.
Over the years since 1969, some rocks and dust were stolen by NASA employees, contractors, student interns, and others with access to them. Some ended up in private collections, but others were sold on the black market, which brings us to a recent public auction in St. Louis.
A St. Louis woman put a small amount of lunar dust up for auction, but federal investigators learned of it and confiscated the dust. They say the woman won’t be charged, because she apparently got the dust from her late husband and she has no idea how or when he got it.
NASA says this small bit of lunar soil came from a larger sample that was smuggled out of the Johnson Space Center years ago. The thief sold the entire sample to a man in Europe who divided it into smaller samples he sold as space memorabilia.
The U.S. Attorney in St. Louis says the moon dust is now back at JSC, but it was interesting to have it on his desk for one day. He says he’ll never be that close to the moon again.
While the Justice Department traces the money trail between the original theft and the St. Louis auction, NASA is tightening the security around its collection of lunar material. It’s illegal for private individuals to own lunar rocks and dust.