The dark side of the moon rock

According to Gutheinz, after NASA gave away the samples in the '70s, the agency had no way to track the gifts. Many of the moon rocks, internationally, have gone missing and have been sold for millions on the black market. "It's not just a rock," he said. "It's the equivalent of a fine piece of art in value."

Gutheinz said that what gives the moon rocks their value on the black market is their scarcity. He said the Honduran moon rock that was found in Florida was originally offered to Gutheinz for $5 million after he took out an ad in USA Today to lure potential sellers who illegally owned the samples. He said he suspects the price tag has increased since 1998."If anything, the moon rocks are more valuable today on the black market," he said.

"Until recently, no one has really tried to identify where these rocks have gone over the years," said Rob Pearlman, the owner of collectspace.com, a site that archives space artifacts, including information on the whereabouts of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 Goodwill moon rocks.

Many of the rocks that have been found by Gutheinz's classes are posted on Pearlman's Web site. Of the Apollo 17 moon rocks given to the 50 states, only 16 are accounted for, according to Pearlman, who added that many are in private collections, away from public view.

"It's one of the difficulties of the project," said Pearlman. "Even harder is tracking down the 134 moon rocks which were gifted to other countries."

Gutheinz said that one of the reasons many of the samples have been lost is the instability of governments in developing countries.

"I am disturbed that many of these countries took these precious gifts and sold them," he said. "Too many of these people we gave the gifts to were dictators and thugs."

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