A strange thing happened after Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew returned from the moon with lunar rocks: Many of the mementos given to every US state vanished. Now, after years of sleuthing, a former NASA investigator is closing in on his goal of locating the whereabouts of all 50. In recent weeks, two of the rocks that disappeared after the 1969 mission were located in Louisiana and Utah, leaving only New York and Delaware with unaccounted-for souvenirs. Attorney and moon rock hunter Joseph Gutheinz is hopeful the last two can be located before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission next summer. "Neil Armstrong's first mission ... was to reach down and grab some rocks and dust in case they needed to make an emergency takeoff," Gutheinz says, per the AP.
President Nixon's administration presented the tiny lunar samples to all 50 states; each got a tiny sample encased in acrylic and mounted on a wooden plaque, along with the state flag. Almost no state entered them into archival records, and Gutheinz said many lost track of them. When Gutheinz started leading the effort to find them in 2002, he estimates 40 states had lost track of the rocks. "I think part of it was, we honestly believed that going back to the moon was going to be a regular occurrence," Gutheinz said. In New York, officials that oversee the state museum have no record of that state's rock. In Delaware, the sample was stolen from its state museum on Sept. 22, 1977. Police were contacted, but it was never found. Read more on Gutheinz and his mission.