The Telegraph reports, Aug. 29, 2009, that a “moon rock” given to former Dutch prime minister Willem Drees by the three Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin during a global tour following their moon mission in 1969, is a fake.
J. William Middendorf, the former American ambassador to the Netherlands, had made the presentation to Drees. The rock was later donated to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum by Drees’ estate after his death in 1988.
Curators at Rijksmuseum, where the rock has attracted tens of thousands of visitors each year, discovered that the “lunar rock”, valued at £308,000, was in fact petrified wood, possibly from Arizona.
Researchers at Amsterdam’s Free University were able to tell at a glance that the rock was unlikely to be from the moon, a conclusion that was borne out by tests. Frank Beunk, a geologist involved in the investigation, said, “It’s a nondescript, pretty-much-worthless stone.”
Xandra van Gelder, who oversaw the investigation, said the museum would continue to keep the stone as a curiosity: “It’s a good story, with some questions that are still unanswered. We can laugh about it.”
For his part, former Ambassador Middendorf said, “I do remember that Drees was very interested in the little piece of stone. But that it’s not real, I don’t know anything about that.”
The misidentification of the rock given to Drees raised questions about how well countries have safeguarded their presents from Washington.
NASA gave moon rocks to more than 100 countries following lunar missions in 1969 and the 1970s. Of 135 rocks from the Apollo 17 mission given away to nations or their leaders, only about 25 have been located by CollectSpace.com, a website for space history buffs that has long attempted to compile a list. Of the estimated 134 Apollo 11 rocks, the locations of only fewer than a dozen are known. However, USA Today said that should not be taken to mean the others are lost — just that the records kept at the time are far from complete.
NASA keeps most of the 382 kilograms (842 lbs) gathered by the Apollo missions locked away, giving small samples to researchers and lending a set of larger rocks for exhibitions. Genuine moon rocks, while worthless in mineral terms, can fetch six-figure sums from black-market collectors. In one known legal sale of moon samples, in 1993, moon soil weighing 0.2 grams from an unmanned Russian probe was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $442,500. Apollo 11 gift rocks typically weigh just 0.05 grams, scarcely more than a grain of rice. The Apollo 17 gift rocks weigh about 1.1 grams. Both are encased in plastic globes to protect them and ease viewing.
In the case of the fake moon rock that the Rijksmuseum inherited from Drees’ estate, The Telegraph story in 2009 said “The U. S. Embassy in The Hague is carrying out an investigation into the affair.”
But according to the undated USA Today article, the Amsterdam case appears to be not fraud but the result of poor vetting by the Rijksmuseum. Spokeswoman Xandra van Gelder said the museum checked with NASA after receiving the rock in 1992 from the estate of the late Prime Minister Willem Drees. NASA told the museum, without seeing it, that it was “possible” it was a moon rock. But the rock weighed a whopping 89 grams (3.1 ounces). In addition, its gold-colored cardboard plaque does not describe it as a moon rock.
The U.S. ambassador gave Drees the rock during an Oct. 9, 1969 visit by the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Netherlands. Drees’s grandson, also named Willem, told the AP his grandfather had been out of office for more than a decade and was nearly deaf and blind in 1969, though his mind was still sharp: “My guess is that he did not hear well what was said. He may have formed his own idea about what it was.” The family never thought to question the story before donating the rock, to which they attached neither great importance nor monetary value.
Even if we assume that the Drees family story about Prime Minister Willem having misheard what the rock was, why would the Apollo 11 astronauts or Ambassador Middendorf give the prime minister a piece of petrified wood?
That makes no sense.
H/t Barry Soetoro, Esq.
Dr. Eowyn’s post originally appeared at Fellowship of the Minds.