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:
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 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:
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
Apollo 17…… 38 years on
image AS17-134-20471 from the Apollo 17 Image Library.
This iconic image was taken 38 years ago today. It shows Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt next to the Lunar Rover during an EVA on December 13th 1972 with the crescent Earth hanging in the sky.
This week marks the 38th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission to investigate the Taurus Littrow valley region of the Moon. The mission launched at 12.33am EST on December 7 1972 and ended on 19 December when the 3-man crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just 640 meters from the target point.
Apollo 17’s mission plan was for the spacecraft to land in the Moon’s Taurus-Littrow region near the rim of the Serenitatis Basin as this region was rich in a variety of lunar geological features such as volcanic cinder cones, highland mountains and many large boulders which had rolled down the North and South massifs. This meant that the crew could investigate young volcanic rock as well as older highland material at the same location. Debris from Tycho Crater’s rays also extended this far. The Apollo 17 crew collected 111 kilograms of lunar soil and rock, 741 individual samples, including a 3 metre deep drill core. This was the biggest and most varied collection of lunar materials returned by any Apollo crew. The mission had the experience of the whole Apollo programme to draw on and from lift off to splashdown it was flawless. A fitting end to an inspirational space programme.
One of the outcomes of the Apollo 17 mission was the distribution of so called “Goodwill moon rocks” – portions of a rock that Jack Schmitt picked from the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley (since labelled sample 70017.) In Eugene Cernan’s words:
|“Jack has picked up a very significant rock, typical of what we have here in the valley of Taurus-Littrow. It’s a rock composed of many fragments, of many sizes, and many shapes, probably from all parts of the Moon, perhaps billions of years old. But fragments of all sizes and shapes — and even colors — that have grown together to become a cohesive rock, outlasting the nature of space, sort of living together in a very coherent, very peaceful manner. When we return this rock or some of the others like it to Houston, we’d like to share a piece of this rock with so many of the countries throughout the world. We hope that this will be a symbol of what our feelings are, what the feelings of the Apollo Program are, and a symbol of mankind: that we can live in peace and harmony in the future.”
Jack Schmitt continued:
Three months after Apollo 17 returned home fragments from the rock that Cernan and Schmitt collected were distributed to 135 foreign heads of state, the 50 U.S. states and its provinces. Each rock encased in acrylic was mounted to a plaque with the recepient’s flag (which was also flown to the Moon.) The samples to the 135 foreign heads of state also included a letter signed by President Nixon. In all nearly five hundred tiny pieces of the sample have been distributed to museums and researchers around the world though NASA still has about 80% of the rock. There is an analysis of sample 70017 here.
Apollo 17 has been a popular topic on the Moon Zoo forum. Forum regular Caro was the first to post a couple of images of the Apollo 17 landing site back in May which together show the Challenger descent stage (visible in the left image, surrounded by trails made by astronaut feet and the wheels of the lunar rover which is visible as a dark spot on the left edge. The US flag is just below Challenger and scattered around the site is various ALSEP debris (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package.) Many other forum members have “rediscovered” the Apollo 17 landing site since.
|Further forum resources:
Apollo 17 resources thread
Dark Haloed Craters
Transient Lunar Phenomena
The UK Goodwill Rock Hunt
|Apollo 17 Internet resources:
Apollo 17 Image Library
LROC site and video of the landing site
Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal
LROC NAC image
Forum member NGC3172 (Nathaniel Burton-Bradford) produced this 3D anaglyph of the landing site:
Ronald E. Evans (Command Module Pilot), Harrison H “Jack” Schmitt (the only geologist to have walked on the Moon) and Eugene A. Cernan were the 3 Apollo 17 crew members. Just before he returned to the Lunar Module for the last time Eugene Cernan said:
“ As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record — that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
But despite the hope and optimism of Eugene Cernan’s words the thrill of landing a man on the Moon had passed. The Apollo mission had finally ended and the prospect of further funding and support for manned space exploration looked bleak. 38 years later Eugene Cernan is still the last man to have walked on the Moon.
Thanks to forum member Tom128 for the Goodwill Moon rock links.
jules is a volunteer moderator for the Moon Zoo forum