Apollo 11 Moon Rock Now On Display
Image Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 Moon Rock Now On Display

17/08/2016Written by Tamela Maciel

Moon rocks from the first and last Moon landings – Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 – are now both on display at the National Space Centre, thanks to a loan from 10 Downing Street.

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Apollo Moon Rocks

Apollo Moon Rocks
Image Credit: NASA, Apollo 12

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the Moon for less than two and a half hours when they made their historic Moon landing back in 1969, but they managed to collect a whole load of rocks – nearly 22 kilograms. In 1972, the crew of the last Moon mission, Apollo 17, collected 110 kilograms, aided by the expertise geologist-astronaut Harrison Schmidt.

In total, the Apollo astronauts brought back 382 kilograms of Moon rock, each one a precious time capsule dating back to the very formation of the Solar System.

Most of these rocks have ended up in NASA and university laboratories and have helped us piece together what the Moon is made of and how it formed.

But a few Moon rocks have also became souvenirs – many as state gifts from the United States to nations around the world.

State Gifts

State Gifts
Crown Copyright

Then-US president Richard Nixon felt it was important to share the first Moon landing as a global event, connecting all mankind, and commissioned special state gifts for 135 different countries.

These Moon rock state gifts each contain 0.05 grams of Moon rock – four pebbles in total – suspended in a clear acrylic dome, along with a small flag of the nation that flew to the Moon and back.

The Moon rocks and flag are mounted on a wooden podium inscribed “This flag of your nation was carried to the Moon and back by Apollo 11, and this fragment of the Moon’s surface was brought to Earth by the crew of that first manned lunar landing.”

Nixon gave these to 135 different countries, including the United Kingdom. (It’s a fascinating aside to glance through the histories of these Moon rock gifts – many have accidentally gone missing!)

 

Image Credit: Nixon White House Photo Office

47 years later and the National Space Centre now has the pleasure to display the Apollo 11 rock that was given to then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1970.

Our curator, Dan Kendall, tells the story of how we acquired this amazing piece of space history from 10 Downing Street:

“Securing this loan began with a chance letter written back in January [2016]. We were aware that Downing Street had the Moon Rock from Apollo 11, and thought why not ask if they’d be prepared to let us loan it for a while?

“It’s really tough to get hold of anything related to Apollo 11, as it is after all one of the most famous events in history, and most of the objects that relate to it are on display in the USA. I wasn’t really sure what our chances were, but knew it was our best shot. Nobody was more shocked than me when Number 10 replied to say ‘Sure thing!’

“It’s such an amazing object, and whenever I look up at the Moon it always blows my mind to know that people have been there and that we have a piece of it at the National Space Centre.

“And now we have more than one piece of it! In fact, as far as I am aware, we are now the only place outside of Central and North America that has Moon rocks on display from both the first and last Moon landings.”

Since the National Space Centre opened in 2001, one of our crown jewels has been our Moon rock from the last Moon landing, Apollo 17, collected by Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt at Shorty Crater. You can find this Moon rock on the top level of our Rocket Tower.

Now we are proud to also display a Moon rock from the first Moon landing, Apollo 11, on loan from Downing Street until February 2017. Explore our new Space Oddities gallery for this and other curiosities from the Space Race.