A historic NASA Moon rover is most likely found in a museum or, at least, heroically stranded on the lunar surface. However, a peculiar twist of fate led to one of NASA’s Moon rovers being found in an Alabama scrap yard.
After making requests through the Freedom of Information Act, a reporter at Motherboard discovered that a NASA space rover was sold for scrap metal to a junkyard in Alabama last year.
The peculiar story came to light when an Air Force historian was visiting his mother in Blountsville, Alabama. He looked across the street and saw a priceless NASA lunar rover in a neighbor's backyard. Sometime around early 2014, he contacted NASA about it but, by the time they had investigated, the owner had died and his Moon rover was sold as scrap metal.
The forlorn lunar rover is believed to be an early prototype for the Apollo missions, which was tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in 1965 and 1966. NASA believes the rover in question is an early prototype of a Local Scientific Study Module (LSSM). Since this rover was just used for test drives, it's very unlikely it ever trod the Moon's surface.
It’s uncertain how much money the rover is worth as there are very few instances of private collectors buying Moon rovers, especially obscure prototypes. However, buying space memorabilia can dent even the fattest of wallets. In 2011, the spacesuit for cosmonaut Alexei Leonov sold for $242,000 (£158,594) and a notebook from Apollo 13 can cost you upwards of $388,375 (£254,521).
No one is sure how the rover ended up in a backyard in Alabama or why it was sold to a scrap yard. The documents from the Freedom of Information Act were reports and messages from NASA's Office of the Inspector General, the arm of NASA that investigates lost or stolen NASA property. Due to the nature of these reports, a lot of the information is still censored and redacted. However, it appears the full story of the lunar rover is lost, even to NASA.
However, there’s good news for this fallen hero. Motherboard reported that the scrap yard owner got in contact with them after hearing about their article. Turns out, he’s actually renovating the prototype Moon rover.