Welcome to the world of space-crime, where the bad guys are intent on picking NASA's loosely guarded pockets by embezzling money budgeted for the Mir space station, by trafficking in artifacts from the Challenger disaster and most of all by selling lunar rocks brought back to Earth by Apollo astronauts.
During 17 lunar missions between 1961 and 1972, the Apollo program landed six spacecraft on the moon. Twelve Apollo astronauts remain the only humans to have walked on a celestial body other than Earth. They brought back nearly 900 pounds of lunar material and most of those rocks remain locked in NASA vaults.
As a goodwill gesture and to promote world order and peace, President Nixon in 1973 had one particular moon rock known as Sample 70017 cut into fragments and given on behalf of America to all U.S. states and 135 countries around the globe.
The "Goodwill Moon Rocks" each weigh in at an insignificant 1.5 grams, but they've become a huge obsession of Joseph Gutheinz, who has become a modern-day Don Quixote in his quest to recover some of those missing rocks, which over time have been lost, stolen or simply disappeared. When they do turn up it's usually on the Black Market and at asking prices in the millions.
Gutheinz wants the lunar artifacts returned where they belong. Operation Lunar Eclipse remains his most daring and successful sting. Posing as a wealthy collector, he was able to recover and return a missing rock to the Honduran government. A Florida fruit wholesaler had been offering to sell the rock for $5 million.
In his story, reprinted from the February 2012 issue of "The Atavist," Kloc follows Gutheinz in his erratic quest and also heads out on the trail of some of the other missing rocks.
It's a peripatetic romp that holds your interest because it's so quixotic and full of oddball characters, among them Jerry Whittredge, who when not claiming to be William J. Clinton is an astronaut imposter who makes up tales of his space travels and tries to sell fake autographs. Like a bumpy ride through space, Kloc's story is a little bit erratic but mostly exhilarating.