Retired NASA Agent Aims To Account For All 50 Moon Rocks NPR's Scott Simon talks to former NASA investigator Joe Gutheinz about his quest to track down missing moon rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo 11 mission.
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Retired NASA Agent Aims To Account For All 50 Moon Rocks

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Retired NASA Agent Aims To Account For All 50 Moon Rocks

Retired NASA Agent Aims To Account For All 50 Moon Rocks

Retired NASA Agent Aims To Account For All 50 Moon Rocks

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NPR's Scott Simon talks to former NASA investigator Joe Gutheinz about his quest to track down missing moon rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo 11 mission.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong drop rocks back from the moon in 1969. President Richard Nixon presented one moon rock to each of the 50 U.S. states. But many of those rocks have gone missing. Some were stolen, some simply misplaced. One man has made it a mission to track down all 50. Joe Gutheinz is a retired NASA senior special agent, now an attorney. He joins us from Houston. Thanks very much for being with us.

JOE GUTHEINZ: Thank you, Scott. I'm proud to be here.

SIMON: Where have all these moon rocks gone?

GUTHEINZ: Well, you know, that's the mystery, isn't it? They've gone to different places. Three governors, after their terms were up, brought the moon rocks home with them.

SIMON: You mean took them home personally with them, really?

GUTHEINZ: Yes. And kept them in their possession or in somebody else's possession for 35 years. In one case, Governor Clinton, soon to be President Clinton, took a moon rock into his custody and somehow it ended up in his gubernatorial archives. One was found in a drawer, another in a hallway, you name it. It's really a story about how we take care of not only American history, but how we take care of $5 billion treasure, which is what it goes for in the black market.

SIMON: How do you find these rocks?

GUTHEINZ: Well, basically there's a formula that I used to give to my students. But let me go back...

SIMON: You teach a forensic investigation course?

GUTHEINZ: I'm taking a break right now but I taught for well over 20 years. And when my students first started looking for these moon rocks after I retired from NASA, back in 2002, I created what was known as the Moon Rock Project. The first thing I was shocked about was that I thought, there's not going to be a problem with the United States, you know, we're good, our guys are honest. And then I realized, no, we're about the same as everybody else. Maybe not quite as bad. And when we started looking for the moon rocks, we found out that the states really didn't know where the majority of the moon rocks were.

SIMON: I gather there are two of the state moon rocks that you've not been able to find so far, right?

GUTHEINZ: Of the Apollo 11, you're right. We haven't found the New York Apollo 11 moon rock and we haven't found the Delaware Apollo 11 moon rock, which actually was stolen in 1977.

SIMON: The Delaware moon rock was stolen?

GUTHEINZ: Yes, it was stolen from the Historical and Cultural Affairs office in Delaware.

SIMON: Of course, next year is the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. Do you have some sort of deadline in mind that you'd like to get if possible?

GUTHEINZ: Well, we've been looking for the Apollo 11 moon rocks for a very long time. But my goal is to find all the Apollo 11 moon rocks that we gave to the states. To that end, I offered a $10,000 reward for the Delaware's Apollo 11 moon rock. Why? It was stolen. It's sitting in somebody's drawers somewhere and the only way we're going to do it is to convince the person, hey, look, I'll contact your state's attorney general's office, I'll tell him not to prosecute you and you give it back to the state of Delaware where it goes back in a museum so kids can enjoy them.

SIMON: Joe Gutheinz, moon rock hunter, retired senior special agent for NASA. At member station KUHF in Houston. Thanks so much, good hunting.

GUTHEINZ: Thank you very much.

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