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How a Houston lawyer tracks down missing moon rocks (+video)

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Navarro, 67, said he didn't fear possible fallout from illegally possessing what could be federal government property or risking fraud charges for selling something as a moon rock when it may not be.

"NASA can't prove they ever had this moon rock," he said.

That part may be true.

The fact that something purporting to be a moon rock even shows up on eBay illustrates the greater problem of no one keeping proper track of the gifted and loaned rocks and the fate of many being unknown.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which keeps its collection of rocks at Johnson Space Center in Houston and a facility in New Mexico, has confirmed the lack of oversight and promised to tighten controls, concurring with a critical audit report last December from its own Office of Inspector General, whereGutheinz worked as a senior agent. He left NASA in 2000 after 10 years.

"From time to time, I get a call from somebody that has a moon rock and his father or her father died and was a scientist," Gutheinz said. "And they ask, 'What do I do with it?' I tell them, 'Give it back to NASA.' That's a real problem."

In the days of the Apollo space program, the idea of not returning to the moon again and again wasn't a concern. So it was believed that more and more rock samples would come, too.

But it's been 40 years since astronaut-geologist Harrison Schmitt and Apollo 17 mission commander Gene Cernan in 1972 became the last men to walk on the moon. The total amount of collected lunar materials has amounted to 842 pounds (382 kilograms), including 2,196 individual rock, soil and core samples. Those subsequently have been split into about 140,000 subsamples, according to NASA.

Gutheinz was responsible for the 1998 "Operation Lunar Eclipse" sting at NASA and intercepted a $5 million sale of a moon rock that President Richard Nixon gave to the government of Honduras after the last Apollo mission.

Of the 270 moon rocks given to nations around the world as gifts, Gutheinz said 160 are unaccounted for, stolen or lost. Another 18 moon rocks from Apollo 11 and six from Apollo 17, gifted to U.S. states, also are unaccounted for or missing.

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