by Robert Baker
In 1976, I requested from NASA a special collection of three moon rocks. NASA had offered to send them to U.S. Embassies for public exhibition for one month in each foreign country. I hand carried them all around Germany to demonstrate to the German public, the U.S. technical and scientific lead over our main military rival, the Soviet Union. Germany was a key ally in Europe. The moon rocks were closely identified with rocket power and high technology, both a part of the image of the U.S. as a very strong military power, and therefore a powerful ally for Germany.
I have a photo of my little daughter holding a NASA moon rock in the living room of our Bonn suburb (Plittersdorf) apartment. It was in the American “golden ghetto” on Martin Luther King Strasse across from the American baseball field which abutted the Rhine River.
I had been showing off the moon rocks around Germany as part of our excellent made in Bonn space exhibit. That was the creation of two dedicated German USIS employees and took a big truck to carry.
The Soviets had surprised and scared Europeans and Americans by launching the first earth orbiting satellite, Sputnik, and then by sending up the first man in space. Since then the U.S. had overtaken and surpassed Moscow in rocketry and space science. Two German staffers, in Bonn, Gunter and Al, had over the years, put together an excellent exhibit on U.S. space accomplishments. It filled a whole moving van and included a full-size figure in a real NASA space suit, a 1/5 size moon landing craft, cardboard rockets, astronauts, etc. Germans loved it.
The real moon rocks were an extra attraction and drew thousands in big crowds in each town where the show appeared. NASA insisted that only an American officer could carry them by hand to each exhibit site and was responsible for their security, staying with them at all times. They came in a shiny, special aluminum suitcase. Each of the three moon rocks fitted into its own cushioned shape inside the suitcase. They were sealed inside plastic formed into pyramid shapes about a foot high.
By NASA edict, I had to put that suitcase into the U.S. Consulate or Embassy safe each night in each town and fetch them out in the morning. I did that at a half dozen towns all around Germany. Each town also supplied a policeman as a guard during the exhibition open hours.
I was exhausted by the end of the moon rock tour from guarding and carrying the rocks every day. In the last town where we showed the moon rocks, Bielefeld, there was no other American officer so I had to stay next to the moon rocks all day, eating a sandwich for lunch but still on watch. I drove back to Bonn (where our Embassy was in 1976). I arrived at 11 p.m. I was too bushed to go into the Embassy and open the safe, etc. so I took the rocks straight home to our apartment. I woke our three kids to give them a chance to hold the moon rocks. I returned the rocks safely to the Embassy next morning. They were shipped back to the U.S. by classified courier the next day. How many kids can say they held a moon rock? It was only exhaustion from the grueling exhibits trip that made me take them home, but looking back, I am glad my kids held a moon rock.