Four years before a human being first walked on the moon, NASA was a bustling place. Engaged in a brutal space race to the moon against the Soviet Union, the American space agency was determined to win.
When we did win and two men became the first living beings to set foot on the moon, pretty soon we started taking vehicles along for the ride, so our explorers could cover more distance. A test version of one of these lunar rovers, aka a model used on Earth to help train astronauts and perfect the technology, recently turned up in someone's backyard in Blountsville, Alabama.
A U.S. Air Force historian spotted it and alerted NASA to it, knowing that the space agency considers such relics from its early days to be priceless pieces of American history. But NASA took too long to attempt retrieving it, because by the time they did, it had been sold as scrap metal and ultimately destroyed.
Motherboard, in a fine piece of investigative journalism, turned up this footnote in NASA history with the help of a Freedom of Information Act request and several experts and historians.
No one seems to know how the rover wound up in Alabama after NASA was done with it, but chances are, somebody at NASA made off with it or sold it for a little off-the-books cash. The problem is that NASA's employees were in such a rush to get to the moon that formalities like tagging and cataloging things like prototypes were sometimes overlooked.
A historian Motherboard spoke to theorized that based on what model of rover it was and what condition it was in, it could have been worth as much as $25,000.