‘Moon Rock Hunter’ on quest to trace down Apollo presents – Know-how

HOUSTON, June 16, 2019 (AFP) – After Neil Armstrong took a “big leap for mankind” on the Moon practically 50 years in the past and picked up rocks and soil alongside the best way, Richard Nixon offered lunar souvenirs to each nation — 135, on the time.

Dozens of the “goodwill” moon rocks — some solely the scale of a grain of rice, others as huge as a marble — have since gone lacking, and Joseph Gutheinz Jr is on a mission to seek out them.

The 63-year-old retired NASA particular agent is the “Moon Rock Hunter.”

“Some folks go rock searching,” Gutheinz mentioned in an interview with AFP at his regulation workplace in a Houston suburb embellished with awards from NASA and the US navy. “I am going Apollo-era rock searching.”

Gutheinz’s quixotic quest to trace down lacking moon fragments intersects with the coups, wars, assassinations and different political turmoil of the previous half-century.

“The Libyan moon rocks? Gone,” Gutheinz mentioned. “Afghanistan’s? Gone.”

The journey includes a colourful solid of characters — from a Texas billionaire and a Honduran military colonel to a Las Vegas on line casino mogul, to not point out the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and the Ceausescus of Romania.

Gutheinz, who teaches school programs along with practising regulation, retrieved one moon rock himself by means of an undercover sting operation. His prison justice college students have positioned 78 others as class assignments.

Starting with Apollo 11, which landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and ending with Apollo 17, in December 1972, US astronauts collected 842 kilos (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil.

Moon rocks collected by Apollo 11 and 17 got to each nation and the 50 US states.

Encased in clear Lucite, they had been affixed to a picket plaque that featured a miniature flag of the recipient nation, which had been flown to the Moon.

Some have been stolen, ending up within the fingers of personal collectors who paid thousands and thousands of {dollars} to personal a tiny piece of Earth’s satellite tv for pc.

Others have merely been misplaced or destroyed.

‘Operation Lunar Eclipse’

Gutheinz, a former US Military helicopter pilot and intelligence officer, is decided to revive the lacking rocks to their rightful homeowners.

“These had been presents,” he mentioned. “We didn’t give them to people.

“I needed to ensure that we took these items of historical past and we gave them again to the folks.”

Gutheinz turned concerned with moon rocks whereas working as a particular agent for NASA, the place he ferreted out corruption amongst contractors by day and studied for a regulation diploma at evening.

“After the Apollo 11 touchdown, con artists had been going door-to-door promoting bogus moon rocks to the hopeful and the unsuspecting,” he mentioned. “I didn’t like that.”

In 1998, Gutheinz launched a sting operation, “Operation Lunar Eclipse,” geared toward nabbing fraudsters.

Gutheinz and Bob Cregger, a US Postal Service agent, adopted false personas and created a fictitious firm, John’s Property Gross sales.

“We went after the con artists,” Gutheinz mentioned. “What we discovered was the true factor.”

They put an advert in USA Immediately saying “Moon Rocks Needed” and had been contacted inside weeks by a person named Alan Rosen, who supplied to promote them an genuine moon rock for $5 million.

After federal businesses declined to place up the cash, Gutheinz secured $5 million from Texas billionaire and one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot.

Rosen handed over the moon rock in a Miami financial institution vault, the place it was impounded by a US Customs agent posing as a financial institution officer.

“It was not till we truly seized the moon rock that we discovered it was the Honduras Apollo 17 moon rock,” mentioned Gutheinz, whose desk includes a reproduction of it mounted on a plaque.

“There was a navy coup in Honduras,” he mentioned. “And the dictator that got here in gifted the moon rock to certainly one of his colonels to say thanks.”

The Honduran colonel had initially demanded $1 million however Rosen ended up shopping for it for $50,000, mentioned Gutheinz, who retired from NASA in 2000 to arrange store as an lawyer.

The moon rock was ultimately returned to Honduras after a years-long courtroom case.

‘I’m going to seek out it’

A stolen moon rock given to a different Central American nation — Nicaragua — additionally underwent a circuitous journey.

The nation’s Apollo 11 fragment ended up with a Las Vegas on line casino mogul named Bob Stupak, who purchased it from a Baptist missionary who had obtained it in Costa Rica.

Stupak displayed it for a time in his Moon Rock Cafe however when the on line casino proprietor died, Gutheinz was contacted by his lawyer, who requested him what he ought to do with the moon rock.

“Give it to NASA with the promise that they’ll return it to Nicaragua,” Gutheinz mentioned he advised him. “And that’s precisely what they did.”

Whereas the Honduran and Nicaraguan moon rocks ended up going dwelling, dozens of others stay unaccounted for.

Spain’s Apollo 11 moon rock is believed to be within the fingers of the household of the late Spanish dictator Franco.

“The story is that certainly one of Franco’s grandchildren tried to promote the Apollo 11 moon rock in Switzerland and that was blocked by Interpol,” Gutheinz mentioned.

Certainly one of Romania’s two moon rocks is also lacking.

“After the Ceausescus, Nicolae and Elena, had been executed on Christmas Day 1989, the property of this horrible communist dictator offered it to some capitalist,” Gutheinz mentioned.

“It’s on the market someplace and sometime I’m going to go discover it.”

Gutheinz is fairly certain he is aware of the place Eire’s Apollo 11 moon rock is, however it’s unlikely to be recovered any time quickly.

It was housed within the Dunsink Observatory in Dublin when a hearth erupted in 1977, and the particles ended up in a landfill.

Fortune hunters have been recognized to go “searching for their pot of gold” there ever since, Gutheinz mentioned.




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