A LUNAR TOUCHSTONE FOR MEXICO

July of 1994 was a time of celebration and retrospective. It marked the silver anniversary of humanity's first halting steps on the surface of a body other than the Earth, the mission of Apollo 11. That mission, along with the other five Apollo missions that landed men on the Moon, signaled to many the beginning of a new era. It foretold new challenges and new adventures for this country and for people of all countries. However, that future was not chosen by the political leaders of the 1970s and 80s, and the promise represented by the Apollo program remains a dimly-perceived glow on the horizon.

There is one aspect of the Apollo legacy that remains vibrant today. The challenge issued by President Kennedy was to deliver a man to the Moon and return him safely by the end of 1969; it said nothing about what else that man might bring back. Indeed, the scientific aspects of Apollo, particularly the exploration of the Moon, developed as the program grew and became reality. The Apollo samples provided scientists with remarkable insight into key aspects of the formation and early evolution of the Moon, and while much of the early excitement and discoveries associated with the Apollo samples have passed, high- quality and important scientific information continues to be extracted from analysis of the "cargo" returned by the Apollo missions.

Touching the Moon -- A visitor makes contact with a sample collected by the astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission. The touchstone exhibit opened in April of this year.

The Apollo program had a magical effect on people around the world who anxiously watched the launches of the majestic Saturn V rockets and then returned to their television sets a few days later to witness the exuberance of crew and ground support staff as two more humans experienced on behalf of their fellows the joy and awe of exploring the Moon. The return legs of the missions were no less riveting than the outbound trip; we all heaved a collective sigh of relief and felt just a little bit taller following the successful splashdown of yet another Apollo mission.

This magical effect carried over to a fascination in the samples returned by Apollo. The interest in seeing, and especially in touching, a piece of the Moon was high. Many pieces of the Apollo samples have been circulated to schools and museums for people to see, however, until recently there have been only two so-called lunar "touchstones," lunar material that could be touched. These are housed at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and at the Space Center Houston facility adjacent to the Johnson Space Center.

On April 30, 1994 the third lunar touchstone went on display in the new Museo de Las Ciencias at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). The April ceremony was the last step in a nearly two year long odyssey that began with a request from UNAM to Dr. David C. Black, Director of the LPI. Because of a Memorandum of Understanding that exists between UNAM and the Institute to foster a variety of interactions, Dr. Black was asked to see if it would be possible to get a lunar touchstone for a major new exhibit that the museum wished to open. With the assistance of people in the Curator's Office and Public Affairs at the Johnson Space Center, and the guidance and encouragement of NASA's committee on allocation of lunar samples, the newest touchstone was prepared and delivered for the exhibit. NASA’s Chief Scientist Dr. France Cordova, as well as Dr. Don Robbins, the Acting Director of Space and Life Sciences at JSC, participated in the exhibit opening. The touchstone, cut from the same Apollo 17 rock as the previous two touchstones, along with a whole rock from Apollo 11, were given to the museum on long-term loan.

It is estimated that more than a million people a year will see this outstanding exhibit.