In A Nutshell
In the 1970s, US President Richard Nixon donated slivers of moon rock to all 50 states and many foreign countries. Incredibly valuable, many of these rocks have simply vanished over the years, some put up for sale on the black market for millions of dollars. There are several parties determined to get these pieces of natural history back.
The Whole Bushel
During the Apollo manned missions to the moon, astronauts gathered several hundred pounds of rocks for study back on Earth. During Richard Nixon’s tenure as President of the United States, he distributed small (about the size of a fingernail) samples of moon rocks to the 50 states and 135 foreign countries. Because of their comparative rarity, these rocks are extremely valuable, worth some $5 million on the black market. In the interim, many of the rocks have gone missing: stolen, lost or buried in storage lockers. Some have been found sitting in desk drawers, forgotten over the decades.
The state of New Jersey cannot account for their rock. Alaska lost their rock after a fire destroyed the Transportation Museum of Anchorage in 1973. The teenage stepson of the curator swiped the rock from the ruin. The boy, Coleman Anderson would grow up to land a television role as a crabbing ship captain on the show Deadliest Catch, and years later would petition the government to grant him ownership of the artifact. He was eventually forced to return it to the state.
The rock given to Romania became the property of brutal communist President Nicolae Ceausescu was the brutal Communist president of Romania. When he was executed for genocide in 1989, the rock went missing; some believe that it was secretly sold off by his estate.
The rock that went to Honduras disappeared in the early ’90s. It was recovered in 1998 in a black market sting operation called Operation Lunar Eclipse carried out by NASA. A dealer in Miami named Alan Rosen tried to sell it to federal agents for $5 million, claiming he had purchased it from a Honduran general for $50,000. He appealed to be allowed to keep the rock, but the United States government ruled that he be returned to Honduras.
One of Spain’s rocks is missing, and the rock given to Malta vanished in a heist on May 18, 2004, when it was taken from the Museum of Natural History in Mdina. Unfortunately, the museum did not have any security cameras, and despite an investigation, there is no trace of Malta’s moon rock over nine years later.