How a piece of the Moon landed at UN Headquarters — Global Issues
Displayed for all visitors to see, the tiny charcoal coloured block of Moon rock spent three decades in storage and made its re-appearance after a rigorous security process.
To Anne Soiberg-Friedkin, who works in facilities management at UN Headquarters, having a piece of the Moon reflects the immense feats of humanity.
“It’s so significant, it should be on display,” she told UN News. “It’s one of the newest gifts on display, even though it was given to us many many moons ago.”
A symbol of mankind’s potential
The first successful Moon mission, led by the US space agency, NASA, returned with about one tonne of lunar rocks, which were shared across the world with nations and scientific institutions. A priceless insight into planetary science, experts have dated samples to about four billion years ago.
Amid the ongoing cold war, the UN welcomed United States astronauts freshly returned from their Moon walk with a ceremony in August 1969.
“I’m sure the flight of Apollo 11 brought to us a renewed realization of what we, as members of the human race, can accomplish on this planet with our resources and technology if we are prepared to combine our efforts and work together for the benefit of all mankind,” said then UN Secretary-General U Thant.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong echoed that message while addressing the crowd gathered at UN Headquarters.
“I can tell that you share with us the hope that we citizens of Earth, who can solve the problems of leaving Earth, can also solve the problems of staying on it,” Mr. Armstrong said.
The Moon is not for sale
However, the Moon rock “gifts” are really just a loan, as it is illegal to own a piece of the celestial body, Ms. Soiberg-Friedkin explained.
The rules were set out in the General Assembly-adopted Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force in 1967. The instrument declared that no one can own outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. That is why security for a piece of it is so important.
NASA’s guidelines were at the forefront, when it came to getting the Moon rock back on display. It took four years of planning ahead of its reappearance on UN Day on 24 October 2023, Ms. Soiberg-Friedkin said.
To prevent theft or damage to the invaluable rocks, stringent rules offered three choices: provide 24-hour security officer tours; a security officer alongside a locked and secure display unit; or installing a camera, the selected option.
The PVBLIC Foundation sponsored a camera for round-the-clock monitoring, Ms. Soiberg-Friedkin designed a bespoke case the UN Carpentry Shop built and an appropriate location was determined: the starting point of official UN tours.
The gifts that keep on giving
Aside from the Moon rock, 193 Member States, individuals and institutions have kept up an official and unofficial gift giving tradition since the UN was founded in 1945. Its collection features such scientific terrestrial innovations as replicas of the first Russian Sputnik, which traversed the Earth’s orbit in 1957, and of a barjil, an ancient air conditioner that has been used to cool indoor temperatures in the Middle East and Asia for 3,000 years.
More recent gifts also dot the campus, including a set of modern chairs in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber, donated by Sweden. The North Delegates Lounge showcases China’s massive Great Wall tapestry that took 26 technicians one full year to weave. Switzerland fitted out the iconic GA-0200 anteroom behind the General Assembly Hall podium for hosting Heads of State awaiting their time to address the world body, and Qatar plushily furnished the East Lounge.
Throughout UN Headquarters in New York, more than 240 official gifts are on display alongside many more donated to the Organization. Ask a UN tour guide to tell you more or check out the UN’s gift registry here.