NASA loses Moon

NASA is great at accomplishing the seemingly impossible – putting boots on the Moon comes to mind – but kind of sucks at record keeping, according to a new report by the space agency's inspector general.

In the audit, which bears the scolding title "NASA Lacks Sufficient Controls Over Moon Rocks and Other Astromaterials," watchdog Paul Martin blasts NASA for losing track of valuable lunar rocks and soil samples. Here's Martin's thesis boiled down into a potent, scorching sauce:

NASA has been experiencing loss of astromaterials since lunar samples were first returned by Apollo missions. In addition to the Mount Cuba disk, NASA confirmed that 516 other 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 Johnson in 2002, but since recovered....

NASA lacks sufficient controls over its loans of moon rocks and other astromaterials, which increases the risk that these unique resources may be lost.

The problem seems to lie with the Johnson Space Center’s Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office, which handles the loaning of space material such as Moon rocks, Mars meteorites and comet dust to researchers, planetariums, museums and other scientifically interested parties. The curation office has at times lost track of rare items, according to the audit, and in other instances "researchers held samples for extended periods without performing research or returning the samples to NASA." In other words, they ganked them.

Where are these items floating around now? Who knows, but here's a guess. (Read the I.G.'s full report. Kudos to WJLA's Dave Kihara for the headline.)