Moon rock to land at KU

Rock on

Come see and touch a moon rock at KU.

What: A NASA exhibit called Driven to Explore, featuring imagery, state-of-the-art models of the Constellation program’s next-generation launch vehicles and a touchable moon rock.

When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, April 13, and Tuesday, April 14.

Where: Eaton Hall on the KU main campus.

With a touchable moon rock coming to Kansas University this month, security might not be the first thing that would come to mind.

But perhaps it should be, says Joe Gutheinz, an attorney now living in Houston.

He said that while serving as a special agent in the NASA office of Inspector General, he led an attempt to recover moon rocks that had been distributed to all the nations of the world.

“When this moon rock comes through (Lawrence), most people are going to be looking at something novel,” Gutheinz said.

But thieves may see it as a $5 million opportunity, he said, saying that some rocks have sold on the black market for that amount or more.

Ian Cahir, a spokesman for the KU School of Engineering, said the school had to meet a number of specific requirements from NASA before it would allow the rock to be brought to campus.

He said the school has worked out arrangements with the KU Office of Public Safety to provide protection, and security concerns also were taken into account when deciding the specific location of the exhibit, he said.

“All sides feel like we’re comfortable” with the security measures in place, Cahir said.

Gutheinz said that during the Nixon administration, the U.S. gave away 135 moon rocks to countries around the world — friend and foe alike — as tokens of goodwill. Six Apollo missions to the moon brought back most of the moon rocks and dust, Gutheinz said.

He helped recover a moon rock stolen from Honduras and returned it to the country, he said, in an undercover NASA investigation called Operation Lunar Eclipse. Malta’s moon rock was lifted and has not been found, he said.

Gutheinz has been featured in a British documentary and in newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor detailing his NASA work.

For NASA’s part, security is of the utmost importance when it comes to moon rocks, said Louis Parker, exhibits manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is bringing the 3 billion-year-old moon rock to KU’s School of Engineering on April 13 and 14.

It’s part of a larger multimedia exhibit called Driven to Explore, which showcases the next generation of NASA spacecraft, but the moon rock is the exhibit’s central focus.

When museums ask how much insurance they should add when a moon rock is present, NASA doesn’t say, Parker said, though it’s a question he hears a lot.

“It’s very valuable. Like the Hope Diamond, we don’t assign any value to it,” Parker said. “It’s irreplaceable.”

The moon rock — one of seven in the world that people can touch — is kept in a safe when not on display, Parker said. When a rock is on exhibit, one person monitors it from inside the room at all times, and others are stationed outside.

That level of security is not found all over the world, Gutheinz said, with some countries placing moon rocks in areas where someone could simply walk in, put the rock into a pocket and leave.

Gutheinz now teaches graduate students in criminal justice at the online University of Phoenix and other students at Alvin Community College in Texas. He said he has them research the moon rocks given to foreign nations in an attempt to keep track of them.

He said collectors can sometimes acquire moon rocks from other sources, including from three unmanned Russian probes. However, those sources are smaller than the United States’ stash.

“It amazes me sometimes” to see the lack of security placed around some moon rocks, he said. “Just imagine you’re looking at $5 million in bills.”