The Finnish Meteorite Laboratory
– Birger Wiik

Study of the moon rocks

I asked Urban how the study of the moon rocks happened. He seemed to be thinking of something and poured me another cup of coffee. While I was drinking the coffee, Urban went to another room. Soon he came back with a transparent plastic bag. Inside the bag there was a booklet and a steel made container. In the booklet I could see numbers 12052 which was underlined with red pen. The booklet was a short brochure about moon samples made by The NASA. The container was made out of steel cylinder. On the other end there was a thread and a nut that fits the thread. In this small container a small piece of moon rock number 12052 had arrived to Finland for chemical analysis.

When the astronauts brought the moon samples to Earth in 1969, the United States handed out the specimens to 142 researchers around the world. As an only Skandinavian researcher Birger Wiik got an invitation to collect samples from Houston. At that time Finland was under hard pressure from the Soviet Union and probably these moon rock samples were part of the international politics of the time. Anyway Birger Wiik was one of the best rock analyst of his time. Wiik had been named to be a leading researcher of the Space Agency of the United States in 1967. He had the honor to be on this post until year 1979. In the end it was natural that he got the opportunity to study these rocks from the moon.

The trip to Houston got wide publicity in Finland. It was followed everyday by the press. When Wiik arrived to Seutula Airport in Helsinki the TV-cameras and all the press was waiting for him. When the door of the aeroplane was opened Birger Wiik stepped out and rised an old attaché bag which he had tight up with a letter band. Everybody thought that inside were the actual rocks from the moon. Very few people know that in reality mostly the content of the bag was actually cognac bottles. These were gifts from old friend in America. At that time there were strict rules about bringing spirits to Finland, but Wiik knew that the Finnish authorities did not have a permission to touch the attaché bag that contained the precious moon rocks. After the trip there was a couple of parties where people remembered rising cognac toasts for the moon stones.

Wiik was promissed nine grams of stones from the moon, but in the end he brought 26,6 grams of samples to Finland. Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest news paper in Finland organized a two day moon rock exhibition in the exchange house with the American Information Office. There were three lunar samples and a small bag of moon dust under the glass dome. During the 12 hours there were almost 2300 visitors.

Before the study of the moon rocks, people thought that these rocks should remind some existing type of meteorites, but that was not the case. The Moon stones were a class of their own or as Birger Wiik said:” Moon is the third world”. Later after the moon missions these super rare moon meteorites have been found from the earth. Birger Wiik had a wish that maybe it would be possible to find a meteorite from the surface of the moon. This wish was not fullfilled during the first flights. Wiik thought that these missions to moon were very important. Wiik studied long, until the end of his life, how the different pieces of our solar system consist of heavier and lighter materials and how these materials were distributed in different kind and size of pieces in our solar system. These differ a lot depending if it is an asteroid, a planet or the moon. In these studies moon rocks are very important pieces. These studies have helped us to understand the born of the solarsystem and how the different bodies of the solar system have formed.

Interviews with Urban Wiik
Tulipalloja taivaalla, Ursa 1978: Heikki Oja
Helsingin Sanomat, obituary notices, B. Wiik
ASU-Center for Meteorite Studies history

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Jarkko Kettunen Meteorite Collection © 2023