PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A piece of the moon was escorted back to its home at the Rhode Island State Archives Monday under tight security.
The rock is from the Apollo 17 moon landing in 1972, which was the last time humans landed on the moon.
It had been on display at the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History and Planetarium ─ on loan from the Rhode Island State Archives.
The coveted rock remained under high security during its time at the museum, according to Renee Gamba, the museum’s director.
“It would be put in the exhibit each morning and then stowed away each night to ensure the safety of the moon rock because you can’t just go back and get another rock from the moon,” Gamba said.
A similar piece of the moon was gifted to each of the 50 states by President Richard Nixon. The rocks were taken from the Taurus Littrow Valley on the moon, which was the site of the Apollo 17 landing.
Geologist-astronaut Harrison (Jack) Schmitt collected 243 pounds of rock samples, and some of those samples were actually examined by Brown University researchers. Those researchers were then able to discover water trapped in small bubbles of the rock.
A Rhode Island State Police trooper escorted the state archivist on Monday to the museum to pick up its astronomical artifact.
“We were happy to have it here as part of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing,” Gamba said.
After signing a couple of documents recognizing the transfer of possession of the rock, it was carried from the museum, driven up I-95 in the trooper’s cruiser and returned to the State Archives on Westminster Street.
“This is a one of a kind piece, so we have a lot of security, and I want to thank the Rhode Island State Police for their help,” Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said.
Inside the vault at the State Archives, the rock was placed next to original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Gorbea said they don’t really have the right security to keep the moon rock on permanent display, but she hopes that will change soon.
“It is my hope that at some point in the very near future, Rhode Islanders will invest in a proper State Archive and Rhode Island history museum,” Gorbea said.
Gorbea’s office has proposed a facility across from the State House to house the historical documents and artifacts, including the state’s moon rock.