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Published: Wednesday, 5/23/2012

Tales of lunar rocks through the years

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAS VEGAS— The saga of lunar rock traveling from the first moon landing in 1969 to the Las Vegas Strip in 1987 and back to NASA in 2012 recalls other moon rock stories. Here are a few:

— CASINO MAGNATE: If they are authentic, four tiny chips of moon rock given by then-President Richard Nixon to former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle would have been pilfered by a Costa Rican mercenary soldier-turned Contra rebel, traded to a Baptist missionary for unknown items, then sold to a Las Vegas casino mogul who displayed them at his Moon Rock Cafe before squirreling them away in in a safety deposit box.

— IRISH DESTRUCTION: Investigators think a sample given to Ireland was buried in a landfill with debris after fire destroyed an observatory in 1977.

— MALTA THEFT: In Malta, a Goodwill Moon Rock was stolen in May 2004 from the unguarded Museum of Natural History in Mdina. But the thief left the Maltese flag and plaque that authenticated the sample as real. The sample hasn't been recovered.

— ROMANIAN AUCTION: Moon rock hunter Joe Gutheinz's students found evidence that the estate of executed former Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu may have auctioned that country's Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock. Romania's Apollo 11 Moon Rock is at the National History Museum in Bucharest.

— DEADLIEST CATCH: Coleman Anderson, a former crab fishing boat captain on TV's "Deadliest Catch" show, claims ownership of Alaska's Apollo 11 moon rocks. He filed a lawsuit saying he found them in the refuse after a 1973 fire at the Alaska Transportation Museum.

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PRICELESS OR WORTHLESS?

Joe Gutheinz, a retired NASA investigator and moon rock hunter, says officials at the space agency have equated the tiniest samples of moon rock to the massive Hope diamond. It weighs 45.52 carats and is estimated to be worth more than $200 million.

Gutheinz says lunar samples are almost impossible to sell, but investigators think a missing Apollo 17 sample may have sold in the Middle East in 1998 for between $5 million and $10 million.

Only once has there been a legitimate sale of moon rocks.

Gutheinz says Sotheby's in 1993 auctioned a 0.2 gram sample of rock from the first of three Soviet Union-era moon probes.

It fetched $442,500.

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RARE FINDS:

There are more diamonds on Earth than moon rocks.

American astronauts collected about 842 pounds of lunar rock in six missions between Apollo 11 in 1969 and Apollo 17 in 1972.

Soviet cosmonauts collected about 300 grams of rock, or about two-thirds of a pound.

The U.S. distributed 270 moon rock samples in the 1970s as a goodwill gesture to countries around the world. States received 100 samples and territories received six. The United Nations received a sample from the Apollo 11 mission.

Retired NASA investigator Joe Gutheinz says 160 samples given to other nations are missing. If the Nicaragua sample is proved genuine, Gutheinz says that number will be 159.

States are missing 18 Apollo 11 samples and six Apollo 17 rocks.

Apollo 11 samples were rice-sized chips, amounting to 0.05 grams.

Apollo 17 samples were single stones, weighing 1.14 grams.



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