Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moon Rocks!

Ok, so it's been about six months since my last post and a LOT has happened!! One small update--I am back for another school year here in Honduras and this year I am also teaching an Earth Science class. I'm really excited about it since I was a geology major in college and it's one of my favorite subjects. One downside is that there don't seem to be many rock or mineral samples available to see in a museum or to purchase (hobby shops apparently aren't big in a country where most people are trying to just get by!). While looking for museum displays or places to take the kids to see mineral samples, I found out about a case of a stolen moon rock that has now been returned to Honduras. Check out this little interesting clip from Wikipedia!! :)

Honduras' Goodwill Moon Rock & Operation Lunar Eclipse

In 1998, a unique Federal law enforcement undercover operation was created to identify and arrest individuals selling bogus Moon rocks. This sting operation was known as Operation Lunar Eclipse. Originally two undercover agents were involved in this sting, Senior Special Agent Joseph Gutheinz of NASA's Office of Inspector General, posing as Tony Coriasso, and Inspector Bob Cregger of the United States Postal Inspection Service, posing as John Marta. This sting operation was later expanded to include Agents from the United States Customs Service. Agents posted a quarter page advertisement in USA Today asking for Moon rocks. The Agents were targeting individuals selling bogus moon rocks, which con-artists sell to the elderly and to space enthusiasts. What they received was a solicitation to buy what turned out to be a gift President Richard Nixon gave to the people of Honduras in 1973, the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock, one of 135 Apollo 17 moon rocks given to the nations of the world. The seller of this moon rock offered it to the undercover Agents for 5 million dollars, a huge amount for something that weighed only 1.142 grams.

After two months of negotiations, this sting operation ended up in a Bank of America vault where the Moon rock was seized. The Moon rock was then subject to a 5 year civil case known as: "United States of America v. One Lucite Ball containing Lunar Material (one Moon Rock) and One Ten Inch by Fourteen Inch Wooden Plaque". This case resulted in the forfeiture of the Moon rock to the Federal Government on March 24, 2003.

After the Moon rock was officially handed back to the American Government it was sent back to Johnson Space Center where it was refurbished so that it could be once again presented to the people of Honduras, which happened on September 22, 2003 in a ceremony at NASA's Headquarters in Washington, D.C. where NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe presented the Moon rock to Ambassador Mario M. Canahuati, of Honduras. Also in attendance at this ceremony was Joseph Gutheinz, the leader of the sting operation, who gave a first hand account of the sting operation to Ambassador Canahuati. Finally on February 28, 2004, NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe flew to Honduras where he formally presented the Moon rock to Honduran president Ricardo Maduro. In 2007, Gutheinz, a past recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, was featured in the BBC Two documentary Moon for Sale talking about the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock and this unique case. Today the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock is on display at the Centro Interactivo Chiminike an education center in Tegucigalpa that receives hundreds of young student visitors per day."