A long-lost piece of the moon that belongs to the state of Louisiana may have remained lost, if not also discarded or destroyed, if the plaque it was mounted on had not attracted the attention of a Florida gun collector.
The man, who was looking for wood samples to use in repairing or replacing his damaged cylinder heads, purchased the Apollo 17 Goodwill Moonrock Screen without realizing what it was. The buyer, who requested anonymity but resides on Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral, said he likely bought the plate at a garage sale sometime in the past 15 years.
“I can’t even tell you how long I had it,” the man told collectSPACE.com after looking for information through a common contact. “I’m not even sure how much I paid for it. I buy plates because I take the wood out of the plates and send it to my gun guy and he makes grips for my Colts and so on.”
“Timber [in the plaques] It’s such a beautiful wood, that’s what I buy them for, “he said.
It wasn’t until the last two years, when looking for a particular wood color to repair, that he pulled the moon rock-adorned plaque out of one of the 15 to 16 plaque boxes he had amassed for his hobby.
“What the hell is this?” He remembered thinking after taking a good look at what was on the plate for the first time. “Before I start taking things off, I usually take a moment to read them.”
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The 10-inch-wide by 14-inch-high (25 by 35 centimeters) plate had mounted on its top a small lucite ball embedded with a 1.142-gram (0.04-ounce) sample of moon rock, part of a larger piece. of the moon collected by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972. Moonwalkers dedicated the rock as a symbol of goodwill while standing on the lunar surface.
(Image credit: NASA)
“This fragment is a portion of a rock from Taurus Littrow’s Valley of the Moon. It was part of a larger rock composed of many particles of different shapes and sizes, a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and humanity’s hope for a future of peace and harmony, “reads a metal plaque placed beneath the lucite-clad moon rock.
Also on the plaque is a 4 by 6 inch (10 by 15 cm) Louisiana state flag.
“This flag of your state was carried to the Moon aboard the America spacecraft during the Apollo XVII mission, from December 7 to 19, 1972,” reads a second metal plaque. “Presented to the People of the State of Louisiana by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”
(Image credit: collectSPACE.com)
Under the direction of then-President Richard Nixon, NASA prepared nearly 200 such plates for display in all 50 US states, US provinces, and 136 foreign nations (the wording of the international gift plates differed slightly, noting that they were a gift from the people of the United States to the public of the receiving country).
“I started reading it and I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s a little weird,'” said the man who had bought the plate at a garage sale. “So I went on the internet and found out, ‘Oh, they’re looking for this puppy.’
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The Apollo 17 goodwill lunar rock submissions were the second and last time the United States gave away lunar material recovered by astronauts. The vast majority of the 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar rocks and soil brought back by the six moon landing missions in the United States remain in NASA vaults, and samples are periodically loaned to researchers, educational institutions and museums.
(Image credit: collectSPACE.com)
Once gifted, the Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rocks (and earlier Apollo 11 lunar sample displays, similarly gifted) were no longer the responsibility of NASA or the US federal government to track. For the first 30 years after they were presented, no one kept a record of where they were displayed, kept or kept.
After a sample given to a foreign nation ended up at the center of a US court case to determine its rightful ownership, a volunteer-led search (led by collectSPACE) began in 2002 to locate them all. To date, of the 379 known displays, the location of 171 is unknown (including three known to have been stolen and one lost in a garbage dump after a building fire).
Of the moon rocks given away only to the US states, New York and Delaware lack their Apollo 11 displays (Delaware is among the three documented stolen), and Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina have not. been able to locate his pieces of the Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock.
(Image credit: NASA / collectSPACE.com)
Louisiana was missing its two moon rock gifts until 2018, when a reporter for a local newspaper traced the Apollo 11 exhibit to the Louisiana Museum of Art and Science in Baton Rouge. Chief Curator Elizabeth Weinstein confirmed that the moon sample had been there since 1982.
“As for the Apollo 17 lunar rock piece that was given to Louisiana, Weinstein had no idea where it might be,” Grace Toohey wrote with The Advocate in August 2018. “There is no record of its presentation or display. in The Advocate’s archives. The Louisiana State Museum and State Archives and the governor’s office had no record of it, although the governor’s office said it is still looking. “
After realizing what he had, the Florida man who had bought the moon rock of goodwill approached the Louisiana governor’s office. From there, it was directed to the Louisiana State Museum.
“They wanted me to mail it to them,” the man recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not mailing this to you. I’ll deliver it to you personally,’ and with that said, that’s what I did.”
“He actually turned the moon rock over to the museum,” Steven Maklansky, acting director of the Louisiana State Museum, told collectSPACE in an interview. “We take possession of the rock.”
Although it has now been restored to the state to which it was originally endowed, it is still unknown how the moon rock came to another state, much less appeared in a private sale. Maklansky said the museum has no plans to conduct additional research, instead opting to focus on the outcome.
“I think it is an extraordinary piece of Louisiana history. Obviously, then, the Louisiana State Museum would be an appropriate place for it to be held for posterity and also offered for public display,” he said. “We are excited to take ownership of this piece and share it with our audiences.”
Discussions about how and when the moon rock could be publicly displayed were just beginning when Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana in late August. After several weeks closed to recover from the storm, the state museum has reopened and those discussions may resume soon.
“I think this is actually the first piece of Louisiana history to come from somewhere other than planet Earth,” Maklansky said. “We are excited that our collection has expanded its reach in this way. The reach of New Orleans and Louisiana has spanned every continent, and we like to make connections about the relevance of our art, history, and culture elsewhere. So That, it’s great that we can now make a connection between Louisiana and the moon. “
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