NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Half a century after American astronauts brought it back from the moon’s surface, a tiny piece of alien rock has finally arrived at its intended destination, the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus.
The 1.1-gram piece of moon rock went on display Thursday at an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the last of the US manned lunar missions and the Artemis spacecraft now orbiting the moon.
“We have the moon rock, which we think is the perfect timing because it is 50 years after it was brought to Earth,” said George Danos, president of the Cyprus Space Exploration Organization which organizes the exhibit.
The lunar sample is encased in a plastic globe with an attached plaque below a small Cyprus flag that reads: “This fragment is a portion of a Taurus Littrow Valley of the Moon rock. It is bestowed as a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and carries with it the hope of the American people for a world at peace.”
That echoes the words of Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan, who said the rock would be a “symbol of what our feelings are, what the feelings of the Apollo program are, and a symbol of humanity, that we can live in peace and harmony in the future.”
It was one of 270 such lunar samples brought back from lunar missions in 1969 and 1972 that the Nixon administration gave away to foreign countries.
But the article disappeared when Cyprus reeled in the midst of war and internal strife in 1974, the year the US ambassador to Cyprus, Rodger P. Davies, was assassinated.
Ultimately, it was returned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the US and locked in a vault. It eventually returned to Cyprus thanks to Danos’ efforts and will be officially handed over to the Cypriot people during a ceremony on December 16 at the presidential palace.
Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Arizona instructor and former NASA researcher who has been tracking missing moon rocks, told The Associated Press that the Cyprus moon sample was taken by a relative of a US diplomat who had been sent to the US Embassy in Nicosia at the time.
Gutheinz said that in 2009 he pressured the individual with the rock to “do the right thing” and return it to NASA, which he did after a five-month negotiation.
Many lunar samples given away to other nations have been stolen, destroyed or missing, Gutheinz said.
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