UN Affairs

When the Moon Made a Splash at the UN

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.”

UN DOS/Anne Soiberg-Friedkin

A four-ounce rock from the Moon, brought back by the Apollo 11 astronauts, is on display at UN Headquarters.

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.

The UN’s foray into outer space matters began in the 1950s. By 1992, it had established the Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), mandated to ensure its peaceful use for the benefit of all.

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.

UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

The Moon rock was first displayed at UN Headquarters in 1970.

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.

UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

US astronauts and representatives present UN Secretary-General U Thant with a piece of lunar rock and the UN flag that accompanied astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Jr. and Michael Collins on their journey to the Moon in 1969. (file)

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14 Comments

  1. Isn’t it incredible that a piece of the Moon was stored away for so long before being displayed? What other fascinating artifacts are in storage at the UN Headquarters?

    1. It really is fascinating to think about the history and significance behind that Moon rock being stored away for so many years. I wonder what other treasures the UN Headquarters hides in its storage rooms.

  2. Isn’t it amazing how a small piece of the Moon can symbolize such significant achievements of humanity?

    1. Indeed, it’s mesmerizing how a mere fragment of the Moon can encapsulate the incredible accomplishments of humanity. The display of that lunar rock is a powerful testament to our boundless potential as a species.

  3. What a remarkable piece of history! The Moon rock on display at the UN truly symbolizes the incredible achievements of humanity. It’s fascinating to think about the journey this rock has been on, from the Moon’s surface all the way to a display for the world to see.

  4. As a space enthusiast, I believe that displaying the Moon rock at the UN not only symbolizes humanity’s incredible achievements but also serves as a reminder of our potential to explore and push boundaries beyond Earth.

  5. Isn’t it fascinating how a tiny piece of Moon rock can evoke such a sense of awe and human achievement? How do you think this symbolic display impacts visitors to the UN Headquarters?

    1. Indeed, Emily_Wonderer86, the display of the Moon rock serves as a powerful symbol of mankind’s capabilities and achievements. Its presence at the UN Headquarters not only showcases our scientific accomplishments but also reminds visitors of the unity and cooperation needed to explore beyond our planet. The awe-inspiring significance of this lunar artifact undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on all who behold it.

  6. It’s truly remarkable to see a piece of the Moon on display at the UN. This symbolic rock represents the boundless achievements of humanity. It’s a reminder of our potential and unity as a global community.

  7. As an admirer of space exploration, I truly believe that the display of the Moon rock at the UN Headquarters is a powerful symbol of humanity’s capabilities. It’s a testament to our scientific achievements and our potential to reach beyond our planet’s boundaries.

  8. Isn’t it fascinating how a tiny piece of Moon rock can symbolize such significant achievements and insights into planetary science?

    1. Indeed, EmilySmith1990! The display of that Moon rock represents the culmination of human endeavor and exploration. It serves as a reminder of the boundless potential of mankind and the incredible feats we can achieve when united in purpose.

  9. This article beautifully highlights the significance of having a piece of the Moon on display at the UN Headquarters. It truly reflects the remarkable achievements of humanity over the years. The Moon rock not only serves as a symbol of mankind’s potential but also as a reminder of our collective efforts in exploring outer space. Such artifacts should indeed be showcased to inspire future generations. Kudos to Anne Soiberg-Friedkin and all involved in making this possible!

  10. As a firm believer in the boundless potential of humanity, I agree with Anne Soiberg-Friedkin that having a piece of the Moon on display is an incredible reminder of our achievements. It serves as a symbol of our capabilities and should indeed be showcased for all to see.

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