The story behind the Moon rock in the Biden Oval Office

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Joe Biden sought after a Moon rock for his Oval Office.

That’s how two body of workers individuals from NASA’s Johnson Space Center ended up on a airplane from Houston to Washington, D.C., on Monday, January 18, two days sooner than Biden’s inauguration, toting “lunar pattern 76015,143.”

The darkish grey, diamond-shaped rock weighs about three-quarters of a pound (332 grams), and it’s sealed in a pitcher and aluminum show case, full of nitrogen, to forestall the rock from being suffering from air or humidity.

Biden’s Moon rock was once first noticed by means of a Washington Post reporter traveling the redecorated Oval Office on Inauguration Day, sooner than Biden himself had set foot inside of. The Moon rock sits on the lowest shelf of the set of built-in bookshelves straight away to the left of the president’s Resolute Desk.

During making plans for the incoming president’s administrative center decor, “The White House curator’s administrative center contacted NASA to look if it was once imaginable to mortgage a lunar pattern for show in the Oval Office,” studies a NASA spokesperson by means of electronic mail, “and NASA was once satisfied to deal with the request.”

Biden sought after the rock as a reminder of the ambition and accomplishments of earlier Oval Office occupants—of the energy of asking Americans to succeed in past themselves.

On Thursday, May 25, 1961, at 12:30 p.m., when President John F. Kennedy took the podium in the U.S. House of Representatives and issued his well-known name that “this country must dedicate itself to reaching the function, sooner than this decade is out, of touchdown a person on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” Kennedy was once asking Americans to do one thing that was once then, fairly actually, unattainable. The nation didn’t have the generation, or the figuring out, to fly to the Moon. But, as Kennedy foretold, it might no longer simply be American astronauts touchdown on the Moon, however “it is going to be a whole country. For all folks should paintings to place [them] there.” Going to the Moon, Kennedy would later say, was once the roughly function that serves “to arrange and measure the perfect of our energies and abilities.”

[Photo: NASA]

The explicit Moon rock NASA despatched to President Biden was once gathered on the 3rd Moon stroll of Apollo 17—this is, the final Moon stroll of the final U.S. Moon touchdown, on December 13, 1972.

The pattern was once already fixed in its graceful show case—which has all glass facets and a pitcher window on most sensible, so the rock can also be observed from all angles—sooner than Biden’s request. The case has a label that explains how the rock got here again to Earth: Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan and geologist and lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt “chipped this pattern from a big boulder at the base of the North Massif in the Taurus-Littrow Valley” of the Moon.

On the day it was once gathered, December 13, 1972, Biden had simply been elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time from Delaware, and was once getting ready to take administrative center in January. He was once 30 years previous.

Biden’s Oval Office Moon rock is in reality a slice of the greater, 6.2-pound rock Cernan and Schmitt firstly gathered, which has been lower into smaller items for clinical learn about. As a consequence, it has one abnormal facet, peppered with tiny micrometeorite have an effect on craters from its lifestyles on the Moon, and a few completely flat facets, the place it’s been lower the usage of a rock noticed in a NASA laboratory.

Biden isn’t the first U.S. president to stay a Moon rock in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was once president in July 1999 all through the 30th anniversary celebration of the first Moon landings. The Apollo 11 astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—introduced Clinton with a Moon rock that they had gathered, additionally in a sealed show case, all through an Oval Office seek advice from on the day of the anniversary. In a 2015 interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Clinton mentioned the Moon rock was once “the most precious factor I had for point of view in politics in the White House.”

For the final two years of his presidency, Clinton informed deGrasse Tyson, he saved the Apollo 11 Moon rock proper handy. “When we’d have Republicans and Democrats in [the Oval Office], or other folks on two facets of any factor, they usually’d get started actually, actually getting out of keep an eye on, I’d say, ‘Wait, wait, wait—you spot that Moon rock? It’s 3.6 billon years previous. Now, we’re all simply passing thru right here. And we don’t have very a lot time. So let’s simply chill out and determine what the proper factor to do is.’

“And it labored each and every unmarried time,” Clinton mentioned. “They had been having a look at an object that existed at a time they might infrequently believe. And it simply gave them that little little bit of area in their thoughts and spirit to take a look at to determine, ok, let’s pass at this another time.”

NASA says the Moon rock Biden has on show is even older than Clinton’s: 3.nine billion years. Perhaps expecting that his Oval Office conversations is also much more difficult than Clinton’s.


Charles Fishman is the creator of One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon. On the instance of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon touchdown, Fishman wrote and produced our 50 Days to the Moon collection.

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