December 09, 2011, 2:59 PM — Just in case you're depressed about the economy, the difficulty in finding just the right job in IT, having your intellectual accomplishments outstripped by a stripling or your digital combat skillz dissed by a humanitarian organization, just be glad when you went into a technical profession you didn't end up at NASA in charge of the moon rocks.
Hundreds of samples of dust and rock stayed right where we could see them – on the moon – for billions of years. In the few decades since they were brought back to Earth by astronauts, 516 of them disappeared between 1970 and 2010, according to NASA's Audit Office.
The Johnbson Space Center Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office is responsible for about 140,000 samples from the moon, 18,000 from meteorites and 5,000 from solar wind, comets and cosmic dust, according to an auditor's report from the NASA Office of the Inspector General released yesterday (PDF).
NASA loans out the samples to other labs for study; it does this a lot.
At one point in March of this year, about 26,000 of the samples had been loaned out to various universities and labs.
Not all of them came back.
In one case a disk with six samples of soil and rock turned up missing after being loaned to the Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Greenville, Delaware in 1978 and expected it back in 2008.
The investigator who borrowed the disk died some time during the loan period and the Observatory couldn't find the sample afterward, it told NASA.
Losses like that one are the rule, though one researcher alone lost 18 samples in 2010, and another stole 218 samples in 2002; the stolen samples were later recovered.