Update: A lunar rover thought to be broken down for scrap in Alabama is still intact (and for sale), the scrap dealer who now owns it has said.
The scrap dealer, who wished to remain anonymous, contacted Motherboard after they ran a story about the rover. The prototype vehicle, the dealer revealed, was once used by Werner von Braun during testing for the Apollo missions in the late 1960s.
NASA has contacted the scrap dealer several times, but so far, he plans to sell it instead of loaning it to the agency.
The original version of this story can be found below.
10.27.15 A prototype of a lunar rover designed for the Apollo missions was sold as scrap metal to a junkyard in Alabama in 2014, Motherboard reports.
The report was part of a series in which Motherboard dug through documents from the NASA Office of the Inspector General, via the Freedom of Information Act. This office tracks items stolen from NASA facilities, among other tasks, and that was how reporters learned the sad story of the rover.
Since it was a prototype, this rover never flew: the 21-foog long, 8,000 pound vehicle was a prototype of the Local Scientific Survey Module, tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1965-1966 in order to test the rover that would be used on the Apollo missions. Although it hasn’t been confirmed, it might have been the prototype that Wernher von Braun is shown driving in some images of tests at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Judging by the selling price of other large pieces of space memorabilia, the rover could have brought $15,000 to $25,000 at auction. Only a few of these rovers remain in existence, one at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and three on the surface of the moon.
The one spotted in Alabama was destroyed before NASA could recover it.
A US Air Force Historian just happened to spot the rover in someone’s backyard when travelling through Blountsville, Ala. to visit his mother. He alerted NASA in February, but no action was taken until December, by which time the rover had been sold and destroyed.
“Upon contacting the current owner, we learned the Lunar Roving Vehicle had been sold for scrap after [its previous owner] had passed away,” NASA wrote, according to an internal memo recovered by Motherboard.
NASA did not reply when asked how the prototype might have gone missing. However, an attorney quoted in their internal report said that prototypes in the early days of the Apollo program were poorly marked, and that it was not unusual for them to go missing.
The Local Scientific Survey Module could carry scientific instruments and one or two astronauts up to five miles away from a lunar module shelter.
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