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The History of Romania in One Object / The Lunar Gifts of President Nixon

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite and our nearest celestial body. Known from prehistoric times, it is the second brightest object in the sky after he Sun. The beauty of the Moon became a source of fascination, inspired curiosity and gave birth to a plethora of cultural traditions. The first Moon landing (July 20, 1969) made a great impression on Romanians. The public television acknowledged the importance of this historical moment and broadcast live the Apollo 11 mission launch (July 16, 1969). In a survey conducted shortly after by influential Lumea (The World) Magazine, the readers considered that the Moon landing was the most important event of 1969.

Photo 1: Moon rock fragments on the wooden support on which we can also see the Romanian flag and the message of President Nixon. The manufacturer's name can be read on the sole.

The rock fragments in the collection of the National History Museum of Romania are embedded in a celluloid globe and were gathered by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their famous Apollo 11 mission. They are accompanied by a small Romanian flag that the U.S. astronauts carried to the Moon and back. Both objects are attached to a wooden socket on which two goodwill messages are engraved: „Presented to the people of the Socialist Republic of Romania by Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America” and „This flag of your nation was carried to the Moon and back by Apollo 11, and this fragment of the Moon’s surface was brought to Earth by the crew of that first manned lunar landing.”

The American President Richard Nixon visited Romania in August 1969. It was a historic moment as never before had an American president visited a socialist state. The visit was a huge success for Nicolae Ceaușescu and hugely enhanced his standing on the international arena. The visit was also a consequence of Romania’s decision not to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 during the events that came to be known as the Prague Spring, a period of political liberalization and mass protest which tragically ended with the country being invaded by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. President Nixon’s visit to Bucharest was the last stop of a long tour that included several Asian countries. Nixon witnessed the landing of Apollo 11 in the Pacific on July 24, 1969, then visited the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Pakistan. He stopped in Romania at the invitation of Nicolae Ceaușescu to engage in talks about important issues of the U.S. foreign policy. A maverick of the Eastern Bloc, Romania was considered a channel of discussion with the Soviets and other socialist states.

Photo 2, 3 and 4: Aspects from American President's Richard Nixon's visit to Romania (August 1969)

Photo 5: In 1970, just one year after the Bucharest visit of Richard Nixon, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu were invited to the White House

Photo 6 (bellow): A glimpse into the meeting of the members of the Apollo 12 crew (and their wives) with Nicolae Ceaușescu (1970)

After Richard Nixon’s visit, some of the members of the Apollo 12 and Apollo 17 missions also came to Romania. In fact, the Moon rock fragments were brought by the Apollo 12 crew members who visited Romania in 1970 and presented as a gift from the American president. During the visits in 1970 and 1974, the U.S. astronauts offered Romanians other objects of great historical value, now part of the National History Museum of Romania’s collection, as a sign of friendship between the two nations.

Replica of the plaque left on the Moon by the Apollo 12 crew members during the second manned lunar landing, November 19, 1969. It bears the American astronauts’ signatures and was presented to the Romanian people on behalf of the United States of America. Charles Conrad Jr., Alan L. Bean, and Richard F. Gordon visited Romania in 1970. (Photo 7)

A photo of Moon surface signed by the Apollo 12 astronauts (Photo 8)

A duplicate of the disc that contains goodwill messages sent from the entire world. The original disc was left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 crew on July 20, 1969. The object can only be read using a 70x microscope. (Photo 9)

A model of an Apollo lunar module offered by the commander of Apollo 17, Eugene Cernan, with the occasion of his visit to socialist Romania in November 1974 along with his fellow crewmen, Ronald E. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt. (Photo 10)

A collage of two emblems (the Romanian Communist flag and Apollo 17 mission emblem) and a photo of an astronaut on the Moon. The emblems were carried to the Moon between December 6 and 19, 1972. This gift was offered to Nicolae Ceaușescu by the Apollo 17 mission Commander, Eugene Cernan. It contains a hand-written dedication ("To President Nicolae Ceaușescu. May the flags of our two countries always blow in the same direction symbolizing friendship and understanding. September 24, 1974") and the crew members’ signatures. (Photo 11)

Photo 12: Moon rock fragments on the wooden support (detail)

THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in the Romanian past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with The National History Museum of Romania. The Lunar Gifts of President Nixon are presented by historian IONUȚ-VALENTIN DRĂGOIESCU.

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