Apollo Lunar Sample Displays – Kathmandu, Nepal - Atlas Obscura

Apollo Lunar Sample Displays

Visitors to the National Museum of Nepal can moon over a set of well-traveled flags. 

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When the astronauts of Apollo 11 went to the moon, they brought along flags from each of the 50 states and all U.S. territories, as well as from 135 countries to hand out as goodwill souvenirs upon their return, along with small samples from the moon’s surface. In 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 did the same. Today, Nepal is one of 29 countries to still have both. You can find them at the National Museum of Nepal, tucked in a small corner next to a rhinoceros skull.

The display from Apollo 11 includes four grains of moon dust in acrylic casing, while the one from Apollo 17 has a small moon rock. These celestial accessories were created by NASA at the request of U.S. President Richard Nixon and were intended to promote world peace. Over the years, many of these lunar display samples have gone missing or turned up on the black market, some selling for millions of dollars. It is estimated that of the 270 flag keepsakes, the whereabouts of 180 are unknown. As a result, a cottage industry to find these missing rocks was spawned, led by Joseph Gutheinz who became known as “The Moon Rock Hunter” for Operation Lunar Eclipse, a sting operation to stop the sale of bogus moon rocks.

These relics of the U.S. space program are far from the only things worth visiting at the National Museum of Nepal. Exhibitions are housed in three sizable buildings: one dedicated to the art of Nepal, another a gallery devoted to Buddhism, and the third (where the flags are displayed), that focuses on natural and cultural history.

The art gallery features works in stone, metal, wood, and on canvas, tracing nearly 2,000 years of art and history in the Kathmandu Valley and beyond. (Pride of place goes to a 2nd century stone sculpture of King Jayavarma which has one of the earliest inscriptions in Nepal.) The Buddhist gallery is expertly curated to teach visitors of all ages about the religion while surrounded by the enchanting trappings of monasteries. And the natural history building is replete with bones, taxidermy, and dioramas that will fascinate and perplex.

Know Before You Go

Despite its name, the National Museum is not usually listed as a main attraction in Kathmandu. It is off the beaten path away from more famous sights, but it is easy to find on Museum Marg, about a 20 minute walk west of Durbar Square.