TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey is asking hundreds of state officials who worked under Gov. Brendan T. Byrne to help the effort to track down a 35-year-old moon rock sample missing from Trenton.
The rare lunar artifact, collected during the Apollo 17 mission and presented to the state by NASA in 1976, is estimated to be worth $5 million on the black market.
The lunar sample was one of the "Goodwill Moon Rocks" that were distributed by NASA, and New Jersey's is one of more than a dozen that have been misplaced or stolen.
The shards, gray and jagged, resemble fireplace ash. They weighed just over 1 gram, when they were presented to two state lawmakers and a Byrne Cabinet member on March 19, 1976.
The governor did not attend the event.
Tom O'Neil of Hawthorne, who was Byrne's assistant legislative counsel, received a letter from the state Department of Treasury this week asking him for any recollections -- "no matter how hazy" -- of where the rock could be.
O'Neil said he recalls the event in the State House, and the small plaque featuring the state flag on which the lunar sample was placed. The plan was to display the moon rock sample in public.
"It was unique," O'Neil said. "It was quirky, there's no other way about it."
But for some reason the sample was not displayed and O'Neil said he can't recall why, happened next. His best theory is that it may now be sitting on a shelf under dust in some corner of an archive in Trenton.
"I really do hope it turns up," he said.
New Jersey officials started looking for the rock sample this year at the suggestion of a retired NASA investigator who has spent years tracking the Apollo 17 gifts awarded by order of President Richard Nixon.
The value of the rocks lies in their rareness. NASA houses 75 percent of its lunar rock and soil samples in a lab in New Mexico, where the inventory is bathed in nitrogen, monitored for oxygen and moisture content, and never touched by bare hands. The rest are on loan for scientific study or display -- or missing.
(c)2011 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services