Moon rocks land at Warren County school

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL – A bit of the moon made its way to Warren County Middle School on Wednesday.

Sixth grade science teacher John Brishcar studied at NASA over the summer with his wife. There, he learned about samples of moon rocks that are available to teachers for presentation and curriculum purposes. Brishcar underwent six hours of training and jumped through a number of paperwork hoops to finally bring samples to the area.

The samples are small and enclosed in a plastic case so that nothing can get in contact with the rocks. If they were exposed, they could rust, break or become contaminated.

No matter their size, sixth grade students were excited to get a close-up look at the rocks on Wednesday. Brishcar was able to give a quick 20-minute presentation to all the sixth graders at the middle school. The timing was perfect, as the classes have just wrapped up a unit on the moon.

Before starting his presentation, Brishcar had to unlock the handcuff that attached the special NASA sample case to his wrist. He explained why the measure had to be taken.

“These rocks are national treasures,” he told students. “It’s funny, though, because that’s just it … they’re rocks.”

However, because of their financial value, Brishcar has to keep a close eye on them. The rocks are worth $30 million per gram, and the sample the teacher acquired actually held 10 grams.

As one student held the sample in her hand, Brishcar paused his presentation to ask her to hold the rocks up.

“You are holding $300 million right now,” he said. Students gasped and smiled as they focused on the encased samples.

“And if I lose them or sell them, I will have committed an act of treason,” Brishcar said. “The punishment for that is … death.”

The samples specifically came from the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. Brishcar said NASA has about 300 similar samples just for teacher use.

The teacher also worked general moon and space exploration information into his presentation, hoping to refresh the students’ memories of what they recently had learned. He also passed around samples of meteorites, and went over the difference between them and meteoroids.

He explained as much as possible about the moon’s origin, and how it makes sense that pieces of it would return to Earth.

Brishcar also encouraged students to pursue a career dealing with space exploration.

“Unfortunately, there are still no female footprints on the moon,” he said during a presentation. “So ladies, now is your time. They’ve got tools there now just waiting for you to check out.”

He did ask that students email him if they get to the moon someday.

One student asked if he might make more money by going to Mars instead, to which Brishcar smiled and said, “I should think so.”

Before Wednesday, Brishcar made presentations on the moon rocks to both the Linden Rotary and local Boy Scouts. He also preached on the samples at Front Royal United Methodist Church.

“I wanted as many people as possible to have a chance to learn more about these very important pieces of rock,” he said. “I mean, it’s pretty cool to hold the moon in your hands, right?”

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com