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The Bizarre Case of NASA’s ‘Stolen’ Moon Rocks

Back in 2014, the agency got a tip.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
Buzz Aldrin on the moon. NASA/Public Domain

A version of this story originally appeared on Muckrock.com.

Through FOIA, Motherboard’s Jason Koebler managed to receive a handful of investigatory reports from NASA regarding missing property, covering cases as weird as satellite parts ending up on eBay or a “wheelbarrow full” of sensitive documents ending up in a off-site dumpster. However, no case is stranger - or sadder - than the “stolen moon rocks.”

Back in 2014, NASA received a tip from a woman, name redacted, that her now-dead step-father had received a moon rock as a gift while working at Texas A&M. She claimed that this moon rock was “the size of a large apple” and weighed a little over a pound. The most conservative estimate would put the value around $2.5 million - at an estimated $275,000 per gram (the 1973 valuation adjusted for inflation), that would put the rock’s total value in the range of $125 million dollars.

So of course her step-dad made necklaces with it.

The informant gave said necklace - which, for maximum emotional value we must assume was a heartfelt gift - to NASA for analysis. Whereupon they quickly determined it was not, in fact, a moon rock, but a terrestrial rock - also known as a rock.

Which NASA then FedEx’d back to its sender, with all participants sadder and wiser for the experience.

So, what happened - did somebody at Texas A&M prank the unsuspecting step-father with “an authentic moon rock,” or was it his own private in-joke? While we’ll likely never know, at least the lesson here is clear enough: never look a gift moon rock necklace in the laser-induced breakdown spectrometer.

The full list of NASA investigation reports is embedded below: