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Another piece of the moon turns up in W.Va.

A retired West Virginia dentist may have found a multimillion-dollar piece of the moon that was given to the state in the 1970s.
Retired dentist Robert Conner holds a tiny chunk of moon rock in his home in Morgantown, W.Va., on Friday.Vicki Smith / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A missing piece of the moon may have been found in Morgantown.

Retired dentist Robert Conner learned Friday that the 1-gram rock fragment he found in his late brother's possessions a decade ago was actually presented to the state by NASA during the 1970s.

"I didn't even know we had one that could go missing," Conner said. "It's been on a shelf."

The rock was part of 135 fragments collected during the Apollo 17 mission and given to the 50 states and several countries, said Joe Gutheinz Jr., a former NASA investigator. The Texas lawyer has challenged his graduate students since 2002 to locate missing moon rocks that were collected during the Apollo 11 and 17 missions and presented as goodwill gifts.

Lunar "Goodwill Rocks" have been valued at as much as $5 million.

Over the years, Gutheinz estimates more than 100 of the 270 fragments collected during the Apollo missions have been lost, stolen or destroyed. But based on the description Conner gave him Friday, Gutheinz is convinced Conner has a real moon fragment in his possession. "This is a major recovery," he said.

Conner's fragment is encased in plastic and rests on a wooden plaque that also holds a miniature West Virginia state flag that flew on the mission. Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon and the sample was collected from Taurus-Littrow Valley in December 1972.

"It does not strike you as being a unique object at all," Conner said. "It's simply there in a piece of wood encased in plastic."

Conner is not sure how the fragment got into his late brother Troy's keeping. The only connection is former Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr., who was presented the fragment while in office, and who also was once affiliated with Troy's Washington law firm.

Moore said his intent was for the fragment to end up at the West Virginia University library, but he may have given it to Troy "to observe."

State Culture and History spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said the state started the search for the missing fragment last year after receiving an inquiry about the piece. The trail went cold after WVU officials said they couldn't find it among Moore's official papers.

The state does have a fragment obtained during the Apollo 11 mission, she said.

Conner said he's willing to turn the fragment over to the state.