Apollo 11: Brian Cox says ‘aerospace wasn’t ready for it’
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The buyer, who has requested to remain anonymous, purchased the plaque as a wood sample to use in the repair of his damaged gun at some point in the last 15 years. But it was not until recently he realised what he had bought. He was left stunned when he discovered he had actually purchased the Apollo 17 goodwill Moon rock display belonging to the state of Louisiana.
The man, from Merritt Island, near Cape Canaveral, told collectSPACE.com: “I can’t even tell you how long I owned it for.
“I’m not even sure how much I paid for it. I buy plaques because I take the wood from the plaques and I send it over to my gunstock guy and he makes grips for my Colts and so forth.
“The wood [in the plaques] is such nice wood — that is what I buy them for.”
It was not until the man was looking for a particular colour of wood recently that he pulled out the plaque and took the time to study the engraving.
He recalled thinking: “What the hell is this?”
He explained: “Before I start stripping things off, I generally take a moment to read them.”
The 25 by 35 centimetres display had mounted to its top a small lucite ball embedded with a one gram sample of lunar rock.
It was part of a larger piece of the Moon collected by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972.
A metal plate affixed to the plaque reads: “This fragment is a portion of a rock from Taurus Littrow 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 endeavour and mankind’s hope for a future of peace and harmony.”
Also on the plaque is a small flag of the state of Louisiana.
It adds: “This flag of your state was carried to the Moon aboard Spacecraft America during the Apollo XVII mission, December 7-19, 1972.
“Presented to the people of the state of Louisiana by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”
Former US President Richard Nixon requested NASA to prepare almost 200 such plaques to be presented to the 50 US states the country’s provinces and 136 foreign nations.
But many have been lost over time.
The man who discovered the Louisiana one added: “I started reading it and thought, ‘Hmm, that’s a little strange’.”
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“So I went to the Internet and found out, ‘Oh! They are looking for this puppy’.”
The vast majority of the 382kg of Moon rocks and soil brought back by the six US Moon landing missions remain in NASA vaults, with samples periodically loaned to researchers, educational institutions and museums.
To date, of the 379 known displays, the location of 171 are unknown.
After realising what he had, the Florida man who had bought the goodwill moon rock reached out to the Louisiana’s governor office.
He said: “They wanted me to mail it out to them.
“I said, ‘I’m not mailing this thing out to you. I will hand-deliver it,’ and with that said, that is what I did.”
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