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Moon rock stolen from Maltese museum

May 21, 2004 -- A piece of the "Goodwill" moon rock presented to Malta in 1973 by United States President Richard Nixon was stolen Tuesday, May 18, from the nation's Museum of Natural History in Mdina, reported museum officials.

The 1.142-gram, 3.9 billion year old lunar sample was reportedly discovered missing by a curator and museum officer during a routine daily inspection. The moon rock's display case had been forced open and the lucite sphere that encased the rock had been removed.

A flown Maltese flag that accompanied the moon rock's original presentation plaque was not taken.

The acrylic-embedded moon rock was originally part of larger sample (No. 70017) returned to Earth by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The rock was dedicated as a symbol of goodwill by the two moonwalkers while they explored the Taurus-Littrow lunar valley.

Three months after Apollo 17 returned, President Nixon gifted fragments of the rock Cernan and Schmitt collected to 135 nations, including Malta.

In February of this year, another fragment of the Goodwill moon rock was returned by NASA to Honduras, after it had been stolen and then smuggled into the U.S. in 1995. The Honduran rock was recovered in 1998 during a sting operation organized by U.S. customs agents, U.S. Postal Service inspectors and the space agency.

"The problem the [Maltese moon rock] thieves have is what to do with it," told Joseph Richard Gutheinz, a retired NASA agent who helped recover the Honduran rock, to the Associated Press. "They can try to sell it to private collectors or if they're sufficiently dumb, at an auction house."

Heritage Malta, the nation's agency for museums and cultural heritage, condemned the theft as "cowardly" and asked that anyone with information contact the police.

History of the Goodwill moon rock, collectSPACE

Moon Rock Stolen From National Museum of Natural History,, May 19, 2004

$5M Moon Rock Stolen From Malta Museum, Associated Press, May 21, 2004

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