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Sat, Dec 10, 2011

IG Finds NASA 'Lacks Sufficient Controls' Over Moon Rocks

Report Indicates Hundreds Of 'Astromaterials' Have Been Lost

A report released Thursday by NASA's Inspector General indicates that the agency has lost hundreds of samples of moon rocks and other "astromaterials" since the first specimens were returned to Earth by the Apollo program. NASA confirmed that 517 loaned astromaterials have been lost or stolen between 1970 and June 2010, including 18 lunar samples reported lost by a researcher in 2010 and 218 lunar and meteorite samples stolen from a researcher at the Johnson Space Center in 2002, but since recovered.

Lunar Sample Disk NASA Image

The incident which sparked the investigation focused on a sample disk loaned to the Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Greenville, Delaware. According to the report, NASA had loaned the sample disk to the Observatory in 1978, and the loan agreement between the two organizations had expired in June 2008. However, due to an administrative oversight and the lack of a system to adequately track renewal dates for long-term loans, the Exhibits Manager did not contact Mount Cuba regarding the loan until February 2010. At that time, the Exhibits Manager learned that the responsible Mount Cuba employee had died the previous year and that the Observatory could not locate the sample. As of December 2011, the disk still has not been found.

As a result, the IG found that NASA lacks sufficient controls over its loans of moon rocks and other astromaterials, which increases the risk that these unique resources may be lost. "Specifically, we found that Curation Office records were inaccurate, researchers could not account for all samples loaned to them, and researchers held samples for extended periods without performing research or returning the samples to NASA," the report says. "In addition, although NASA recently improved controls over loans to educators, we identified additional opportunities for NASA to strengthen its practices and update its policies for loans of astromaterials for education and public display purposes."

Apollo 15 Moon Rock NASA Image

The report says that NASA needs to tighten controls over educator and public display loans of these unique resources, and that while NASA "has taken some steps over the last 2 years to improve controls over loans of lunar and meteorite samples for use in classrooms, related Agency policies are out of date and do not accurately reflect current practices and organizational responsibilities."

In responding to the IG's investigation, NASA management said it agreed with the findings and recommendations, and set a self-imposed deadline of September 30th, 2012 to have new safeguards and procedures in place.

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