A Florida gun collector likes to shop at garage sales for old plaques so he can reuse the wooden backs to repair gunstocks. Recently, he was looking through a collection he bought years ago when one featuring a small Lucite ball caught his eye.
“What the hell is this?” he remembers thinking at the time, reports Robert Pearlman of the website Collect Space.
The man quickly realized there was a precious stone inside the plastic orb—not a gem, but a piece of moon rock brought back on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The plaque and lunar nugget had been a gift to the state of Louisiana by then-President Richard Nixon but somehow ended up in a garage sale for the gun collector to find years later.
The gun collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, has donated his find to the Louisiana State Museum, where it is has been reunited with a second moon rock. Steve Maklansky, the museum’s interim director, is still trying to figure out how this other worldly artifact left Louisiana’s orbit in the first place.
After Apollo 17 landed back on Earth, Nixon handed out 379 slivers of the satellite stone to all the states and territories, as well as foreign nations. Over time, those gifts began to disappear. A 2002 search launched by Collect Space found that many were unaccounted for. To date, the fate of 171 rocks remains unknown.
The plaque also states that the gift was “Presented to the people of the state of Louisiana by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”
The Florida man who found the plaque hand-delivered it to Louisiana State Museum. He didn’t want to take a chance that something might happen during delivery. Maklansky is grateful for his generosity and concern for reuniting the state with this precious artifact.