I can explain calculus to people who don’t know math. I own at trivia. I have a capacity to remember all sorts of stuff that most people, rightfully so, would never bother to remember. Sometimes it’s spooky.
However, I will also probably forget your name if I meet you and there is a good chance I’ll make a very bad first impression, probably inadvertently saying something offensive. (I was told at my going away party I yelled at someone telling them that “BORNEO ISN’T A COUNTRY. IT’S AN ISLAND!”)
..anyway, I digress.
The reason I bring that up is because I noticed something today that I am probably one of only a small handful of people who would have noticed and been in a position to notice.
I visited the Solomon Islands national museum on Wednesday. The National Museum isn’t really anything to write home about. It’s surrounded by a rusty fence. The one building with exhibits is pretty old and grungy. I was the only visitor there and they had to open up the gift shop just for me. So I suppose that’s the first thing….most people who visit the Solomons (and there aren’t many) don’t bother to go to the museum.
In the museum, they had all sorts of carved sculptures, artwork, photos and artifacts from the Solomon Islands. It wasn’t the level of a display you might expect at a western museum, but that shouldn’t be expected. It got the job done and the lady working at museum was very nice and informative.
While wandering around all the Melanesian artwork and artifacts I came across something which was very out of place. It was an engraved plaque.
It was an engraved plaque with the Apollo XVII mission patch on it.
On the plaque was a small acrylic sphere with a tiny piece of rock in the middle. A moon rock. It was collected in the Taurus-Littrow Highlands of the moon, and it was sitting in a exhibit of Melanesian artifacts in Honoria.
The plaque said it was given to the people of the Solomon Islands by President Carter on July 7, 1978 on the occasion of their independence.
Most people would have noticed the moon rock. There is nothing special in that. I however knew something else. There have been several hundred moon rocks given as goodwill gifts by the United States. About half of them are missing. They might be sitting in a cabinet somewhere or might be in the home of some bureaucrat who was in a position to take the moon rock home 30 years ago.
However, many of them have been flat out stolen and sold on the black market to collectors. On a per gram basis, moon rocks might very well be one of the most valuable things on Earth. One recent case in the news (where I read about all of this) had someone trying to sell the stolen moon rock given to Malta for $5,000,000!!! In public auctions, pieces of the moon have sold for $400,000 for tiny fragments.
It was that knowledge that had my heart racing when I noticed something else…..
the glass display case had no lock….
the glass display case was wide open…..
I was alone in the room…..
I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a moment of temptation. I, and I alone it would seem, was the only person who had laid eyes on this thing in years who probably knew the real value of it to collectors. No one probably would have noticed it missing for months if not years. (If I had replaced it with a fake, maybe even longer) Five million dollars in the size of a big marble just sitting there unprotected.
With my warped values however, I figured it would make for a better blog post that it would selling it. Besides, I’d really be a shitty human beings if I stole from the poorest country in the world.
I mentioned going to the museum later in the day to the guy at the travel agency who booked my tickets through to Honolulu. He mentioned that there had been several break-ins at the museum.
What was stolen you ask??? Shell and feather money which is still used as currency on some of the islands.
If you want an example of the different values other cultures have, I can think of no better example. They broke in to steal the pacific equivalent of wampum and left the $5m moon rock.
Anyway, having decided not to turn to a life of crime, what to do next?
Given how these things have disappeared over time around the world, it is probably just a matter of time until someone steals it. (It may have been stolen before during the civil unrest here in 2000) If I tell someone who works at the museum about the value of it, there is a good chance they might just take it.
I have no clue who to talk to in a position of authority and, honestly, I don’t think the security of moon rocks is very high on the agenda of the government of the Solomon Islands.
I figured the best thing to do was to make it public and hope that someone will pass this along to someone in NASA or the State Department who might be able to suggest to the Solomon Government they put it away. Also, by making it public, if it disappears, it is going to make it very obvious that is it stolen and at least give and indication of when and where it happened. (I suppose there is a risk of someone reading this, taking the first flight to the Solomons and stealing it, but I think that is slim, and moreover, having made this public, it would make it much harder to sell).
I will probably also stop by the US Consulate today because the office is in the same building as DHL and I need to send a package home.
So if anyone reading this knows someone in some position to do something, please pass this along. It would be a shame to lose another one of these rocks to thieves.