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Space Age Careers

Tues. Oct 17, 2000

House Passes Bill to Award Apollo Astronauts Moon Rocks

By Robert Pearlman
Special to
posted: 06:01 pm ET
27 September 2000

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( -- Between the years of 1969 and 1972, astronauts on six Apollo missions retrieved 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust from the moon. For their haul, these 12 moonwalkers (and six command module pilots) were heralded as international heroes, receiving honors from almost every nation in the world.

What became of the moon rocks? Here's a quick look:
In NASA, military vaults: 711 pounds

Studied, returned to NASA: 60 pounds

Sent out for study: 15 pounds

Loaned to museums or schools: 24 pounds

Destroyed in experiments: 22 pounds

Gifts to foreign heads of state: 0.6 pounds

Used but not destroyed in experiments: 7 pounds

Lost: 0.078 pounds.

Yet, they were never permitted to keep a sample of the surface they alone had visited. Now, it looks like that is about to change.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Apollo Exploration Award Act of 2000" ordering NASA to "design and present an award to the Apollo astronauts," including the provision that "a lunar rock sample shall be the central feature of the award."

"The only fitting commemoration for those who have touched the moon or made that great achievement possible could be a piece of the moon itself," said the bill's author, Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Indiana) in his address to the House.

The bill awards by name the 32 Apollo astronauts (including the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 1) with a lunar specimen. In the case of the 10 lunar explorers who have already passed on, the award will be presented to their closest living family member or heir.

Taking into consideration the relative rarity of lunar specimens, and to insure the rocks do not ultimately find their way to eBay, the bill places restrictions on the transfer of the award.

Once presented, it cannot be sold or transferred for profit, nor may it be inherited by anyone other than a family member of the astronaut. If the award is not inherited or, in lieu of that, has not been transferred to a museum or nonprofit institution, ownership of the lunar sample reverts to NASA.

In addition, the space agency shall have the authority to recall a sample for scientific purposes, as long as the lunar rock is returned promptly or a replacement specimen is issued.

Given the above conditions, NASA has expressed concern that tracking the lunar specimen would be difficult and therefore has opposed the passage of the act.

Representative Souder's press secretary, Angela Flood, defended the bill in a telephone interview with In addition to the fact the legislation does not require NASA to track the specimen, Flood questioned why the space agency was citing difficulties.

"NASA already tracks the loan of about 10 lunar samples per week to educational institutions," said Flood.

Regardless of NASA's concerns, the Act, which was introduced on the 30th anniversary of the first lunar landing, July 20, 1999, passed the House by a vote of 419 to 0 (with 15 members abstaining). It will now await a similar (if not identical) bill to be introduced and passed in the Senate before being sent to the president to be signed in as law.

Coming Friday: A new rover that can float like a balloon, drive on solid ground and skim across water.

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