Nasa loses moon, space rocks
Washington - Nasa's Inspector General says the space agency seems to have misplaced some pieces of the moon, meteorites and other space stuff.
Nasa concedes that more than 500 pieces of space material have been stolen or been missing since 1970. That includes 218 stolen moon samples that were returned and about two dozen moon rocks and chunks of lunar soil that were reported lost in 2010.
Inspector General Paul Martin issued a report detailing foibles such as the US space agency making loans to researchers who never used the samples, or simply losing track of rare pieces dating back to the first US trip to the Moon in 1969.
"According to Nasa records, 517 loaned astromaterials have been lost or stolen between 1970 and June 2010," said the report.
Astromaterials 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.
"These samples constitute a rare and limited resource and serve an important role for research and education," it added.
"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."
Nasa has loaned more than 21 500 samples to researchers, who in some cases said they never ended up using the material.
The report says Nasa needs to keep better track of what is sent to researchers and museums.
In 2002, 218 samples from the Moon and meteorites were stolen from Johnson Space Centre in Houston but later returned.
Earlier this year, one moon rock that had been given up for lost was discovered in a box of former president Bill Clinton's files and memorabilia, stored at an Arkansas library.
"It's a bit of a mystery solved," Bobby Roberts of Little Rock's Central Arkansas Library System was quoted as telling CNN in September. "It's kind of like, 'where'd I leave my wallet?'"