NASA Inspector General Paul Martin issued a report detailing foibles such as the US space agency making loans to researchers who never used the samples, or simply losing track of rare pieces dating back to the first US trip to the Moon in 1969.
"According to NASA records, 517 loaned astromaterials have been lost or stolen between 1970 and June 2010," said the report.
Astromaterials include Moon rocks and soil; meteorites from asteroids, Mars, and the Moon; ions from the outer layers of the Sun; dust from comets and interstellar space; and cosmic dust from Earth's stratosphere.
"These samples constitute a rare and limited resource and serve an important role for research and education," it added.
"Specifically, we found that NASA records were inaccurate, and that researchers could not account for all samples loaned to them and held samples for extended periods without performing research or returning the samples to NASA."
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