Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2003 18:29 UK

US returns moon rock to Honduras

Moon rock on plaque
A Miami dealer was offering the rock for $5m
The Honduran Government has recovered a moon rock that was given to its people by former US President Richard Nixon in 1973.

The moon rock, collected by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972, mysteriously disappeared from the Honduran presidential palace between 1990 and 1994.

The rock was later recovered in a sting operation co-ordinated by undercover agents working for the American space agency, Nasa.

The specimen, one of many moon samples given to nations of the world by the United States, was handed over to the Honduran ambassador on Monday.

The rock, mounted in a clear sphere on a wooden plaque bearing the Honduran flag, had been on display in the presidential palace in Honduras for years before it disappeared.

Miami vault

It was rediscovered in 1998 when Joseph Richard Gutheinz, an agent of the Nasa inspector general's office and other federal officers staged an elaborate sting designed to smoke out dealers in black-market lunar rocks.

Mr Gutheinz said his team placed a newspaper advertisement offering to buy moon rocks.

Apollo 17 astronaut
The last moon-landing mission brought the rock back from space
A dealer in Miami responded by offering to the sell the specimen for $5m.

Alan Rosen said he had bought the rock from a Honduran general for $50,000 after it disappeared from the country's presidential palace in the early 1990s.

After two months of negotiation, Mr Gutheinz was escorted to a bank vault lock box and shown the moon rock plaque. Agents then seized the item.

A federal court later ruled that Mr Rosen could not keep the rock, despite his proposal that it be sold and the proceeds split between himself and the US Government.

The courts later ruled that the moon rock and plaque rightfully belonged to Honduras.

Safe keeping

No criminal charges were filed against Mr Rosen.

On Monday, Nasa administrator Sean O'Keefe presented the recovered lunar rock to Honduran Ambassador Mario Canahuati.

Mr O'Keefe said the recovery of the moon specimen was a tribute to the international cooperation of law enforcement officials, calling the plaque "truly historic and unique".

Mr Canahuati said the rock and plaque would be returned to Honduras and put on display in a safe location where it would receive "the respect it deserves".

US wins custody of moon rock
26 Mar 03 |  Americas
The legacy of Apollo
14 Dec 02 |  Science/Nature
Country profile: Honduras
11 Jul 03 |  Country profiles

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