October 2, 2012 10:43:46 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Linda Marlbrough may be the only instructor in the history of Greater Columbus Learning Center to need a police escort when she leaves the building.
Then again, she carries precious cargo -- two locked boxes containing authentic moon rocks that are both ageless and priceless.
Marlbrough's students, studying astronomy and geology for their GED exam, got the first chance to see the rocks, but now GCLC is opening their doors to the public, offering free tours today through Thursday from 10-10:30 a.m., 11-11:30 a.m., 1-1:30 p.m., 3-3:30 p.m., and 4-5:30 p.m.
Marlbrough learned about the availability of the rocks in January while attending a teacher conference at the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium at the University of Mississippi. The nonprofit organization is supported by NASA and works to promote science, mathematics and technology efforts at schools and colleges throughout the state.
Marlbrough had to attend a two-day class before she was certified to receive the moon rocks -- along with meteorites and moon soil samples -- because the rocks are considered national treasures.
With great treasure comes great responsibility. After Marlbrough's lunar sample application was approved, she received the items via registered mail, but then the hard part began -- keeping constant vigil over them.
The majority of authentic moon rocks in the United States were obtained during NASA's Apollo missions, during which 842 pounds of moon rocks were collected. Since then, they've been the target of theft and forgery because of their value.
They must be kept within Marlbrough's sight or in a safe at all times. They can't be kept in a motel room. And even though the moon rocks and meteorite samples are encased in a thick oval of Lucite, the Lucite can't be touched with bare hands, because skin oils will cloud the surface.
Though Marlbrough admits she was "scared to death" to assume such steep responsibility, she was even more adamant that her students -- and area residents -- be given the chance to see something they might otherwise never see.
Her students benefit from what she describes as a lifelong fascination with astronomy.
"It was weird, just to see something like that," GED student Paris Easterwood said of the rocks. "You'd never expect the different colors and stuff."
For Allison Harris, the classroom assignments with the moon rocks provided a better understanding of the course material, and the hands-on approach to learning made it more interesting.
That's something Marlbrough takes seriously -- so much so that she's planning a field trip later this month, taking her students to NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center on the Gulf Coast.
"It opens up a world of rich experiences to them," GCLC Director Darren Jordan said Monday. "Science and math is the mainstream of today's society. We want our students to have that exposure."
As for Marlbrough, the sky is the limit, quite literally. She's looking forward to the day astronauts return with rocks from Mars. And you can bet when they do, she'll be first in line to bring them back to Columbus.
For more information about seeing the moon rocks, please call 662-329-7691.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.