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Explained: Why has Joe Biden’s added a moon rock to Oval Office?

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 30-01-2021 Explained Desk
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As per tradition in the United States, every incoming President gets to redecorate the Oval Office – the commander-in-chief’s principal place of business which is visited by the most powerful people in the world.

So, after taking office as the 46th US President on January 20, Democrat Joe Biden has made a couple of changes to the Oval Office, including replacing portraits, carpets, and removing the “Diet Coke button”.

Also among the changes is the addition of a Moon rock– a sample of Earth’s natural satellite collected by astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, just before Joe Biden began his long career in the US Senate.

The Moon rock in the Oval Office

As per a NASA press release, the Moon rock –Lunar Sample 76015,143– has been loaned at the request of the Biden administration, and has been put on display in the Oval Office since January 20. It has been placed at the bottom shelf of a recessed bookcase, next to a portrait of American founding leader Benjamin Franklin and adjacent to the Resolute Desk, as per

The rock has been placed in the Oval Office “in symbolic recognition of earlier generations’ ambitions and accomplishments, and support for America’s current Moon to Mars exploration approach,” as per the space agency.

Lunar Sample 76015,143, which weighs 332 grams, was collected by Apollo 17 astronaut Ronald Evans and moonwalkers Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan. 143 is a smaller rock that was cut from its parent 76015, a larger rock of 2.819 kg that was chipped off a large boulder 3 km away from the location of the Apollo Lunar Module– the lander spacecraft used during NASA’s Moon missions. Apollo 17 was the last mission to send humans to set foot on the lunar surface.

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The lunar sample is 3.9 billion years old, and was formed during the last large impact event on the nearside of the Moon, as per NASA. It has an irregular shape, containing tiny craters that have been formed due to micrometeorite events that have sand-blasted it over millions of years. Flat sides of the rock placed in the Oval Office were created in NASA’s Lunar Curation Laboratory, where slices were cut for scientific research.

Before reaching the White House, 76015,143 was put on display in the German Museum of Technology in Berlin, as per

Interestingly, Biden is not the first US President to put a Moon rock on display. In 1999, on the 30th anniversary of Apollo 11– the first successful effort to send humans to the Moon– astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins visited then-President Bill Clinton as NASA loaned lunar sample 10057,30 from the mission to the White House. It remained on display in the Oval Office until the end of Clinton’s tenure in January 2001.

Ellen Stofan, director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, said on Twitter, "Thank you to the President of the United States for putting a NASA moon rock in the Oval Office — look at what we can do together as a country when we are united.”

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