They are considered national treasures, priceless artifacts that can't legally be sold and yet officials are clueless how the Apollo 11 moon rocks found recently ended up in a government storage in Minnesota.
The moon rocks were among the 185 lunar stones collected from the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 and presented to U.S. territories and foreign countries after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely returned from their mission.
The ones found in Minnesota were encased in a plastic case mounted on top of a wooden podium that was adorned with a small flag representing Minnesota, one of the states that sent a man on Apollo 11.
"The Apollo 11 moon rocks were found amongst military artifacts in a storage area at the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul," said Army Maj. Blane Iffert of the Minnesota National Guard.
"When I searched the internet to find additional information about the moon rocks, I knew we had to find a better means to display this artifact," said Iffert, a former historian. "It is stated on some websites that approximately 180 [sample displays] are currently unaccounted for of the 270 moon rocks from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions. We've just lowered that number by one."
President Richard Nixon gifted a moon rock display to each state to commemorate the successful trip to the moon but some went missing afterward.
Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Phoenix instructor and former NASA special agent, has been spearheading the search for the missing moon rocks since 2002. He said some of the rocks are "invaluable" and may have ended up on the black market in the hands of collectors.
Luckily, with the discovery of the missing lunar rocks in Minnesota, Gutheinz now is closer to recovering all the missing artifacts. Eleven states still cannot find their Apollo 11 moon rocks.
The historical moon rocks found in the government storage will be transferred over to the Minnesota Historical Society on Wednesday.
"We are honored to have this in our collection to preserve for future generations," said Pat Gaarder, deputy director for the Minnesota Historical Society, in a statement. "It is also exciting to think that our collection includes artifacts from across the globe and now with these moon rocks, the galaxy."