The French National Space Agency (CNES) was recently, and it picked up a
$75,000 bargain: 25 grams of Mars picked up in the Sahara by a firm
specializing in this particular form of Easter egg hunting. Like poor Jack
trading the family milk cow for a handful of beans, French space experts
are sure that the stakes make the deal a steal. As they see it, of the
dozen or so Martian fragments under current analysis, most come from US
meteorite-rich grounds in the Antarctic and have been well-studied by US
scientists before occasionally being handed down to research elsewhere. As
a result 90% of all Martian meteorite research is published by US science.
The looming danger is that when the Mars Sample Return does actually bring
back a sample (now pushed off to a 2014 return) divvying up the Return will
be done on the basis of scientific expertise, and France aims to accumulate
some of the latter by collecting and studying their own meteorites. Ten
laboratories will earn the right to a piece of the rock, selected on the
basis of project proposals submitted to a call for tender. Known as NWA 480
the meteorite has been renamed in honor of recently deceased French
naturalist, writer, and legendary defender of the desert milieu, Theodore
Monod. (Le Figaro, April 6, p15, Marie Lescroart)