National Air and Space Museum

Touching a Piece of the Moon

A hand touching the Museum's lunar touchrock. Part of a photo series by Museum photographer Jim Preston.
A hand touching the Museum's lunar touchrock. Part of a photo series by Museum photographer Jim Preston.

At the National Air and Space Museum in DC, you can touch a piece of the Moon. The Moon rock on display in our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, is one of only a few touchable lunar samples in the world. As Air & Space magazine notes in a recent article, when the Moon rock was put on display when the museum opened in 1976, it was the very first touchable Moon rock exhibit. Credit for that idea goes to Farouk El-Baz, then-director of the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. It took some persuading on his part, but eventually the Moon rock went on display as a piece of the Moon any visitor can touch. And we're glad it did!

If you ask the staff and "Blue Crew" volunteers who work at the museum's Southwest Airlines Welcome Center, they'll tell you that one of the most common questions they get are "Where's the Moon rock?" In the over 40 years the lunar touchrock has been on display, millions of people have walked through our doors and touched a piece of the Moon.

In particular, it's a piece of basalt, iron-rich volcanic rock, from the Valley of Taurus-Littrow, brought back to Earth by the astronauts on Apollo 17. There are only a few places in the world where you can touch a piece of the Moon brought back during the Apollo missions, and they are all from this Apollo 17 sample. Recently, the Moon rock was briefly off display as we moved it to another place in the gallery. It is back now for our visitors to enjoy.

Intrigued by the number of people that interact with the touchrock every day, staff photographer Jim Preston took over 60 photos of visitors touching our little piece of the Moon. A sample are available below, and you can see them all in this Flickr album.

A hand touching the Museum's lunar touchrock. Part of a photo series by Museum photographer Jim Preston. (Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum)