Instead of growing plants, New Mexico’s moon rocks grew a spat between governors…

Recent news articles shared that researchers at the University of Florida had succeeded in growing plants in lunar soil harvested from the moon’s surface during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions.

In what might be considered an affront to vegetable hating youngsters, the plant selected to be grown in the lunar soil was Arabidopsis thaliana — a plant related to mustard greens, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower, I mean really, even President George H.W. Bush couldn’t stomach broccoli. I, for one, actually do like broccoli. However, if the noxious weed known as okra and eaten by some taste-challenged humans had been grown in the lunar soil, I probably would have been offended at the choice. But I’ve drifted off point here.

The story about use of the lunar soil to grow plants reminded me of a spat in 1971 when I was just starting my career as United Press International’s Santa Fe Bureau Chief and State Political Editor. It seems that when Republican Gov. David F. Cargo cleaned out the governor’s office to make room for incoming Gov. Bruce King, a Democrat, much of the office seemed to have been stripped bare of any trinkets that are routinely presented to governors from citizens during their tenure.

When he went into his office for the first time after being inaugurated, King commented about the bare space he inherited. Notably missing was a collection of lunar rocks that had been scooped up by the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Moon rocks

“All he left me was this woodpecker,” King told a journalistic colleague of mine, pointing to a carved wooden roadrunner donated to the governor’s office by the state’s Prison Industries Division

Besides the humor of King calling a roadrunner a woodpecker, the response from Cargo was equally humorous.

“I can do whatever I want to with them,” Cargo said of the moon rocks. “The President gave them to me. If I want to give them to the museum, I damned well can.”

Cargo eventually did give some of the rocks to the Museum of New Mexico after it was determined that the inscription on the capsule containing them noted that they were “Presented to the People of New Mexico.”

Sunday night’s blood moon made me think that perhaps the reddish shade of its surface was lingering anger that someone had made off with some of its possessions more than 50 years ago.

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