Space memorabilia is historically important and very collectable. Just look at last week's auction of a Bulova wristwatch worn on the Apollo 15 mission. The final asking price? $1.62 million. However, not every piece of space kit ends up going to a happy home. According to government documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act by Motherboard, one of the few lunar rover test vehicles built by NASA to prepare for the Moon landings even ended up in an Alabama scrapyard last year.
The rover was a prototype rather than one that had actually been to the Moon (there are three rovers still parked on the lunar surface, but transporting them back would be a colossal waste of fuel), and it's not clear exactly what the vehicle looked like. However, according to NASA's documents, it was a Local Scientific Survey Module or LSSM that was used for "human factor studies and mobility evaluations" in 1965 and 1966. Some of these vehicles were substantial — weighing in at up to 8,000 pounds with six, 5-foot diameter wheels. (The image at the top of this story comes from this collection and shows a General Motors testing vehicle. Click for more pictures!)
The vehicle was spotted in someone's backyard by a passing space historian
But how did it end up getting sold for scrap? The whole story isn't entirely clear, but NASA's documents say it was spotted in someone's backyard in the town of Blountsville by a Marshall Space Flight Center historian who just happened to be in the neighborhood in February last year. Unfortunately, by the time the space agency got in contact in October the "moon buggy" had been taken away and scrapped. As for how it got out of NASA's hands in the first place, that's another mystery, although the agency notes that such prototype are "built in-house and are not always tagged."
For more information on the story, you should check out Motherboard's full write-up, but the moral of the tale is simple. If you see a lunar rover in someone's backyard, act quickly before it's sent to the scrapheap.
Update October 29th, 6.00AM ET: The rover has been recovered! The descriptions of LSSM vehicles in the story above have also been changed to reflect this new information.