Lost and Found: The UK Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock

Back in August of last year Tom128 posted some information about the Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rocks. Fragments from a rock that Cernan and Schmitt collected during the mission were distributed to 135 foreign heads of state, the 50 U.S. states and its provinces. Some of these samples, however, have been lost or destroyed. This got us wondering where the UK sample was. A search on the internet suggested it was in the Natural History Museum in London yet when I visited the museum the following week I could only find the Apollo 16 sample – despite asking a museum attendant. The photo posted by Tom128 was in fact the Apollo 16 sample and not that from Apollo 17. A bit of detective work ensued…..

To cut a long story short it took an exchange of e-mails with the Curator of Meteorites in the Department of Mineralogy at the museum, 2 Moon Zoo moderators, 2 Galaxy Zoo regulars, 3 museum attendants and several cups of tea to track it down. It wasn’t easy. It’s not in the Natural History Museum’s Guide or on their website. Nor is it with the museum’s fine collection of rocks (where the Apollo 16 sample lives.) After being sent on a false trail we eventually found a museum attendant who knew exactly where it was – in an exhibition in the Earth Galleries called: ‘From the Beginning’ which features a display on solar system objects including the Moon. He took us there, which was just as well as it is easy to miss. This is the display he took us to – a picture of the Moon along with a diagram of it’s geological structure:

The Moon display in the "From the Beginning" Exhibition

Having passed this earlier little did we realise that the display rotates and at the other side of the picture of the Moon we finally found the UK’s bit of the Taurus Littrow Valley. This rock was returned by the crew of the final Apollo mission and is a piece of history – part of the last sample of Moon rock to be brought back by the last man to have walked on the Moon.

The UK's Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock

The UK's Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock (showing the 2 inscriptions enlarged)

The sample is a tiny fragment of a 3.7 billion year old slow cooling basaltic lava known as sample 70017 – Ilmenite Basalt. A rather grey and dull looking piece of basalt which looks much more impressive under the microscope:

For full analysis see sample 70017 - Ilmenite Basalt: http://curator.jsc.nasa.gov/lunar/lsc/70017.pdf

So we finally found it! Thanks to Dr Caroline Smith, Curator of Meteorites and a succession of Natural History Museum attendants. Special thanks also to Alice (Galaxy Zoo Moderator) and Stellar190 (Galaxy Zoo regular) for persevering with me and fellow Moderator Geoff in the search. Do you know where your Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock sample is? Why not seek it out and post a picture on the forum?

Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Moon Zoo forum

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One response to “Lost and Found: The UK Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock”

  1. Katie Joy says :

    Thanks Jules – That’s great – having done much of my PhD and previous post-doc research at the NHM I never even knew we had a piece of Apollo 17 basalt on display. Thank you for enlightening me! Another place to see the Moon in the UK is the National Space Centre in Leicester where I recall they also have a slab of Apollo 17 basalt on display.

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