ST. LOUIS — After nearly four decades, Missouri has its missing moon rock back.
The rock was collected during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. It was among several given by President Richard Nixon to all 50 states and 135 foreign countries in 1973. At the time, Republican Kit Bond was Missouri's governor.
Bond was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. Meanwhile, the rock was long forgotten.
Missouri was among 15 states that couldn't account for the Apollo 17 moon rocks. State officials weren't sure what happened to it.
But this week, as Bond prepares to retire, his staff found the rock in the archives of his office in Washington while sorting through hundreds of boxes of memorabilia, officials said Thursday.
"I suspect it may have been easier to find one's way to the moon than find the rock buried amongst the clutter of 40 years of public records," Bond said in a statement.
The senator presented the moon rock to Gov. Jay Nixon — a Democrat and no relation to President Nixon — at a private dinner at the governor's mansion in Jefferson City. It will be on display at Nixon's office through January. After that, the rock will go to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for care and display.
"This moon rock is a special piece of Missouri's — and America's — history, and we're pleased that it will be available for generations to come," Nixon said.
A database at www.collectspace.com listed Missouri and 14 other states that couldn't account for the goodwill moon rocks from Apollo 17 — rocks that took on added significance as well as value after the mission turned out to be the final manned space trip to the moon.
The Missouri moon rock is the sixth tracked down this year, largely through the work of Texas attorney Joe Gutheinz. He is a retired special agent with NASA's Office of Inspector General who also is a criminal justice instructor for the University of Phoenix. For years, he has had students help him in locating missing moon rocks.
"This is a great day," Gutheinz said. "The bottom line is Kit Bond's office was looking everywhere but his own filing center."
Gutheinz said he was able to track down rocks from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions earlier this year in the Hawaii governor's office. His students helped locate one missing in the nation of Cyprus, then their efforts helped find missing Apollo 17 rocks in West Virginia and Colorado. In both of those states, like in Missouri, outgoing governors inadvertently took rocks with them when they left office. Gutheinz suspects many of the other missing moon rocks could be found among the possession of former governors.
It is illegal for individuals to own moon rocks — even Apollo astronauts aren't allowed to possess them. But Gutheinz, a former special agent with NASA's Office of Inspector General, said they are worth $5 million on the black market.
The Missouri rock is black, encased in resin and affixed to a wooden plaque with a miniature Missouri flag. It is from the Taurus Littrow Valley of the moon.