A missing lunar rock brought back by the astronauts from the 1972 Apollo 17 moon mission has been located and given to the Louisiana State Museum. The rock and its plaque, belonging to the state of Louisiana, were found in the possession of a man in Florida who believes he purchased it at a garage sale decades earlier.
The lunar rock was returned to the Louisiana State Museum last year, but word of its recovery wasn’t announced until September 27, 2021, when journalist and historian Robert Pearlman published an article to CollectSpace.
According to the report, the unidentified man, who resides on Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral, collects old plaques to use the wood to refurbish the stocks on his guns. He recently discovered the Apollo 17 moon rock in his collection, in one of the 15 or 16 boxes he has amassed over the years.
When he realized what he had, he immediately contacted the Louisiana governor’s office.
“I can’t even tell you how long I owned it for,” he told CollectSpace. “I’m not even sure how much I paid for it. I buy plaques because I take the wood from the plaques and I sent it over to my gunstock guy and he makes grips for my Colts and so forth.”
The Apollo 17 moon landing in December 1972 was the final mission in NASA‘s Apollo program. Its crew consisted of Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, and it marked the last time humans set foot on the moon.
The lunar rock from the mission is just one of hundreds given to US states, territories and foreign countries during the early-to-mid 1970s by former President Richard Nixon‘s administration. Among those handed out included fragments taken by Neil Armstrong and the Apollo II crew during the first-ever moon landing in 1969.
Louisiana was given a piece of lunar rock from that mission and had feared it too was lost. However, it was discovered in storage at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum.
“I think this is indeed the first piece of Louisiana history that comes from someplace other than planet Earth,” Steven Maklansky, the Louisiana State Museum’s interim director, told CollectSpace. “We’re excited that our collection has broadened its scope in this fashion. The reach of New Orleans and Louisiana has spanned across all continents and we like to make connections about the relevancy of our art, history and culture to other places. So it is great that we can make a connection now between Louisiana and the moon.”
How and when the moon fragment from Apollo 17 went missing is currently unknown. The 1.142-gram piece was encased in a small lucite ball and mounted on a 10-inch wide by 14-inch tall wooden plaque. While the plaque resembles the design and layout of other lunar plaques, the museum still plans to review its authenticity. Officials have yet to say what steps they will take to do so, but it has been recommended they have NASA perform tests on it.
At present, it’s unknown when the Apollo 17 lunar rock will go on display. Discussion was underway during the summer, but Hurricane Ida’s effects on Louisiana have since put talks on hold.