Why Is It Illegal To Sell Moon Rocks?

It is illegal to sell moon rocks.

The idea here is that we cannot sell things we do not own.

The rocks brought back from the moon landings are not owned by individuals.

Both the United States and Russia (previously the USSR) have declared moon rocks to be National Treasures.

Hence, ordinary people do not own moon rocks.

Why Is It Illegal To Sell Moon Rocks? (Let’s Learn More)

The Science behind Moon Rocks

Moon rocks are also known as lunar meteorites

The common notion is that moon rocks are rock samples brought back from the Moon by astronauts.

While lunar meteorites are essentially moon rocks, they do differ from the rock samples brought by astronauts.

Let’s talk a little about lunar meteorites.

The primary difference between lunar meteorites and moon rocks is that the former reached our planet as a result of natural forces, whereas the latter was brought to earth by astronauts. 

Violent asteroid collisions often result in lunar meteorites ejecting from the surface of the moon. 

Due to this violent collision of asteroids, vast amounts of lunar rocks break out of the moon’s surface (gravity) into space.

As the earth’s gravitational force pulls on a space-borne moon rock, the rock starts descending into our atmosphere.

As time goes by, some of these meteorites reach the vicinity of the earth’s gravitational zone, eventually landing on our planet.

It is worth noting here that a majority of these lunar meteorites find their way into the vast oceans.

Most of those rocks are never to be seen again.

However, the ones that fall on land are eventually recovered.

Due to the vastness and geographical conditions of the Saharan Desert, a large number of lunar meteorites have been found there.

The arid conditions of this desert are ideal for preserving the lunar rocks for long periods of time. 

Over 190 kg of lunar meteorites have been recovered from the desert areas in Northern Africa, Oman, and Antarctica. 

Once the government finds these rocks, they send them to labs for a thorough analysis to identify their composition.

Once it is confirmed that these rocks are of lunar origin, sometimes they are made available for the public to purchase.

Characteristics of Moon Rocks

Talking specifically about moon rocks (not lunar meteorites), astronauts brought back close to 2415 rocks between 1969 and 1972.

These rocks weighed over 380 kg.

Most moon rocks were grayish-black, white, or green.

Some of these moon rocks had a glassy texture, while others were fragile.

Moon rocks are classified into three main types, namely, basaltic rock type, volcanic ash, and breccia.

Another form of moon rock, known as the Pristine rock, is a specific type of rock that was not impacted by asteroids/meteorites.

Such a rock has a gray appearance and is made up of plagioclase feldspar, which is high in calcium.

Composition and Classification of Moon Rocks

What makes moon rocks unique?

Moon rocks do not contain water.

Hence, they cannot be oxidized.

Also, due to meteor crashes, these rocks have a disfigured surface.

Given that there is no atmosphere on the moon, these moon rocks form micro-craters (small craters).

These craters are between 1 μm and 1 cm.

Broadly speaking, scientists use the same classification procedure for moon rocks as they use with igneous rocks found on our planet.

However, due to their unique mineral composition, some moon rocks are classified into a specific category, known as KREEP rocks.

KREEP is an acronym for potassium (K), rare earth elements (REE), and phosphorus (P). 

These KREEP rocks exhibit a higher degree of radioactivity than those found naturally on earth.

In addition, these rocks contain higher amounts of thorium.

As we know, individuals cannot own rock samples brought to earth by Apollo astronauts.

Such rocks are owned by NASA (and the US government). 

The moon orbits our planet earth by over 250,000 miles.  

Obviously, it is not possible for most of us to visit the moon. 

Governments spend millions of dollars on space (and moon) expeditions.

Broadly speaking, lunar objects come to earth through three key sources, namely, lunar meteorites, the Soviet Union Luna Program, and the U.S. Apollo Program. 

These lunar meteorites are legal to collect and trade (buy or sell) on the open market.

It goes without saying that these lunar samples command exorbitant prices at times. 

For example, a 12-pound lunar meteorite fetched $612,500 at an auction in Boston, USA, in 2018. 

The Soviet Union Luna Program was able to collect 301 grams of lunar materials in the early 1970s.

A sample of a lunar meteorite (gifted to the widow of a former Soviet space program director) fetched $855,000 at the Sotheby’s auction house in New York (USA) in 2018.

The reason why it was legal to purchase this lunar item was that it was given as a ‘gift’ by the Soviet government.

Talking about the US Apollo mission, most of the lunar samples collected by astronauts are stored at the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

However, smaller collections of these lunar samples were also supplied to labs and testing centers.

Thanks to President Nixon, all fifty US states and 135 countries received two commemorative plaques containing small samples of the moon.

Interestingly, close to 180 lunar samples have been either unaccounted for or stolen.

In terms of the law governing the trade of lunar objects, the 2012 Public Law 112-185 suggests that a US astronaut who was part of “any of the Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo programs through the completion of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, who received an artifact during his participation in any such program, shall have full ownership of and clear title to such artifact.

However, NASA has been relentlessly trying to recover lunar samples that have been stolen or have fallen into the wrong hands.

We must be careful when diving into the moon rock market. 

Acquiring lunar meteorites is legal.

This is partly because the nations of origin for these meteorites, such as Morocco and Mauritania, do not impose legal restrictions on trading meteorites.

However, knowingly or accidentally acquiring moon rocks (that came from an Apollo program) can attract legal issues.

The government has the right to forfeit such rocks, and the individual runs the risk of losing his investment.

How much is a moon rock worth?

The value of moon rocks can be as high as a few million dollars. 

For instance, a bag of moon dust from the Apollo 11 mission commanded a whopping $1.8 million! 

Given the rarity of moon rocks and the legal veils around the ownership and trade of lunar materials, the valuation of such objects is only bound to increase.

NASA states that the Apollo missions brought around 842 pounds of lunar material from the moon’s surface.

As mentioned earlier, the Soviet programs brought around 0.75-pound lunar samples.

As per NASA’s valuation, a gram of a moon rock can cost over $300,000.

Why do people like to purchase moon rocks?

One of the biggest reasons why people want to collect moon rocks (lunar meteorites) is the fact that these objects are extremely rare. 

What is the likelihood of an average person traveling into space and getting a hold of a lunar sample?

The rarity of these lunar objects makes them a highly sought-after commodity. 

Secondly, lunar samples are excellent educational and outreach tools. 

These lunar objects can prove a great way to expand the knowledge of students of geology and planetary sciences. 

They give a practical (and not just theoretical) touch to space research.

As we know, people collect things for a variety of reasons, ranging from family and emotional meaning, connecting to their childhood, for knowledge and learning, for pleasure and enjoyment, for prestige and recognition, to collecting for investment.

Meteorites are amazing, fascinating objects. From a collector’s standpoint, these objects possess all the qualities to make them ‘rare’ and ‘valuable’. 

It would not be wrong to say that collectors view lunar samples as owning a part of space itself.

And in the case of moon rocks, it is like having a piece of the Moon in your hands.

With the growing levels of awareness and investments in space travel and research, the demand for lunar meteorites and moon rocks is bound to grow.

Hopefully, we should see more transparent laws pertaining to the ownership and trading of lunar samples.

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Why Is It Illegal To Sell Moon Rocks