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The era of American space flight between the years of 1969 and 1972 was dominated by NASA's Apollo missions.  The 4 years in which 24 brave men reached out beyond what many thought was possible captivated the entire world with their mission to reach the moon.  Not only did we succeed in putting men on the surface of our closest celestial body, we brought some of the Lunar surface back!

Unfortunately, we weren't very good at keeping track of these precious pebbles.

Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Louisiana's moon rock story starts with Apollo 17

In December of 1972, astronauts Eugene Cernan (pictured above), Harrison Schmitt, Ronald Evans, and 5 mice embarked on what would be the final Apollo mission and moon landing for human kind.  Their Saturn V rocket hurled them through space at a neck-breaking speed of 25,000 miles per hour towards their destination - the Moon's Taurus Littrow Valley.  The moon-men's job was to conduct 3 moonwalks, deploy scientific instruments, and take some lunar samples.

One of those samples was a large rock made up of lots of smaller rocks of varying shapes and sizes.  According to Collectspace.com, the astronauts that collected this chunk of the moon dedicated it to all humankind by saying that it was:

...a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and mankind's hope for a future of peace and harmony

Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Then President Nixon gets involved

This large chunk of the moon's surface was broken up into 200 pieces and each one was placed in a sphere of Lucite.  Each rock was then attached to a plaque in order to be presented to each of the 50 U.S. states, our provinces, and 136 foreign nations as per the order of President Nixon.  The one that came to Louisiana, however, still had a bit of travelling to do.

No one kept track of these precious stones

Once the federal government gifted the lunar samples, they never looked back.  After they were given, the rocks became 100% the property and the responsibility of the recipient.  Unfortunately, records of where they were being displayed weren't kept for 30 years!  That made them extremely easy to lose track of or steal.

Photo By Nasa/Getty Images

Louisiana actually lost 2 moon rocks

The state of Louisiana didn't just get a piece of the moon from the Apollo 17 mission, we also got one from Buzz Aldrin's moon landing in 1969.  It was also feared lost, but was actually in the Louisiana Art and Science Museum in Baton Rouge - and had been since 1982.   The other was just found in a junk wood pile in Florida.  Honestly, it's a miracle that it wasn't destroyed or lost forever.

How did this important piece of history end up in a junk pile?

According to the report from Collectspace.com, the man who found it isn't even a space nut - he's a gun collector.  The man (who requested to remain anonymous) was searching through his scrap wood pile to find pieces for a gun stock when he saw this otherworldly treasure.  Thankfully, he did not use it in his project.

The man had reportedly scoured garage sales looking specifically for plaques because the quality of wood was exactly what he wanted for his hobby.  He reportedly didn't remember when he bought it, but he did say that it would have been sometime in the last 15 years. Somehow, this incredible reminder of man's ability to reach out beyond our home planet was sold next to old vinyl albums and worn out crock-pots.

Where is it now?

A cursory internet search revealed that Louisiana had indeed been searching for this long-lost rock for decades.  After contacting the proper authorities and refusing to simply drop such an important artifact in the mail - the anonymous man that found it drove all the way from his home near Cape Canaveral, Florida to the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans so he could personally deliver it back to its rightful home.

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Louisiana is a weird and wild place. Some of our state's history is way stranger than fiction! Test yourself to see if you are a Bayou State expert!