Imagine going all the way to the moon for rocks and meteorites only to lose them!
Paul Martin, NASA’s inspector general revealed in an audit report Thursday that hundreds of moon rocks and soil samples collected over six lunar missions have been pilfered or lost.
The space agency has lost track of 517 rare souvenirs dating back to the first lunar landing in 1969, the audit found.
These include moon rocks and soil; meteorites from asteroids, Mars, and the moon; ions from the outer layers of the Sun; dust from comets and interstellar space; and cosmic dust from Earth's stratosphere.
"According to NASA records, 517 loaned astromaterials have been lost or stolen between 1970 and June 2010," said the report.
"NASA is committed to the protection of our nation's space-related artifacts, and sharing these treasures with outside researchers and the general public," --NASA Spokesperson Dwayne Brown
Hundreds of samples lost
The Johnson Space Center’s Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston maintains NASA’s collection of astromaterials and loans them for scientific study, public display and analysis by researchers.
The office manages a collection 140,000 lunar samples, 18,000 meteorite samples, and about 5,000 solar wind, comet, and cosmic dust samples.
As of March 2011, over 26,000 of these samples had been loaned out to various universities and labs.
The agency's inspector general audited 59 researchers and found 19 percent could not account for the space material that NASA had loaned.
There were records of hundreds of samples that no longer existed. The audit found 12 researchers "who had died, retired or relocated" before returning the borrowed samples.
One researcher was holding on to nine lunar samples borrowed 35 years ago while another had 10 chunks of meteorites with him since 14 years.
In 2010, one researcher lost 18 samples. Earlier, in 2002, 218 samples were stolen from Johnson Space Centre in Houston, but returned later.
"Specifically, we found that NASA records were inaccurate, and that researchers could not account for all samples loaned to them and held samples for extended periods without performing research or returning the samples to NASA,” said the report.
NASA routinely distributes samples without maintaining proper documentation and security which increases the risk of the astromaterials getting lost.
The Office of the Inspector General recommends a list of reforms and policy changes such as annual inventories, written agreements to keep track of the samples.
NASA Spokesperson Dwayne Brown stated, "NASA is committed to the protection of our nation's space-related artifacts, and sharing these treasures with outside researchers and the general public.
"We agree with the recommendations contained in the recently released Inspector General report examining NASA's controls over loans of moon rocks and other astromaterials to researchers and educators. Actions will mostly result in changes to loan agreements and inventory control procedures."