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One Tank Trip: Martian Materials Meteorite Store

POTTSVILLE, Pa. - Self-proclaimed amateur astronomer Roger Wehbe is unapologetically mad about meteorites.

"Like when I was growing up, I had NASA wallpaper," Wehbe said. "Let's start there, you know."

Let's start with his love of space rocks. It goes back to 1984, when a Martian meteorite was discovered in Allan Hills, Antarctica. He and so many others agreed it looked like a fossil, so Wehbe started buying what he could from Mars. It's a risky venture but he said he buys only pieces cataloged by the International Meteorite Collectors Association.

As for the rocks he doubts, he has them tested in meteorite research labs at major universities.

What Wehbe is certain about, is that what he has amassed is inspiring, and he's quick to just drop it in your hand and share it.

"This right here is a Martian Sheragotti NWA 6963," he said. "That stone you're holding is not from Earth. It's from Mars. If that doesn't give you goose bumps. It's like so cool. It's from a different planet."

On this planet, Wehbe's collection is under one roof. You can tour the Martian Materials Meteorite Store for free. It's more of a mini-museum than a store since there really isn't much for sale inside. You'll find it on North Second Street in Pottsville.

It's organized in order of the planets, starting with Mercury. There is nothing from Venus though, since no one has anything from Venus.

"If I give them a Martian rock, it should inspire them," Wehbe said. "It should. If it doesn't, then I'm doing a terrible job. I think holding a rock from another planet should have a kid saying, 'Wait a minute. It's not that far.'"

There's a stone in the ground out front, where you can "land on Mars."

The idea behind it all is to get you excited about science, to understand we're just one small part of the big picture, to get into the space race.

"I just feel like there's so much opportunity up there," Wehbe said. "I feel like this is 1850 and we are just building the railroad. That's what it feels like, or it's 1992 and the internet is just starting. That's what it feels like to me."

And if someone offered him a ride, he'd take it.

"If I had a chance to get off this planet, I would, but I'm stuck here (laughs). We're all stuck here," he said. "If it was up to me, I'd go somewhere. Put me on Mars. I don't know, I'll go with [Elon] Musk."

Until Musk comes calling, you'll find him Wehbe with his rocks in Pottsville, making the other worldly seem more ordinary and, perhaps, even a place we can call home one day.


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