The Apollo 17 lunar sample display consists of a Moon rock fragment from a lava Moon stone identified as lunar basalt 70017, the recipient's flag and two small metal plates attached with descriptive messages. A goodwill gift from the Apollo 17 mission was then given in the form of a wooden commemorative plaque display individually to all fifty states, five U.S. territories, and 135 nations worldwide.
Eugene Cernan ended his walk on the Moon in 1972 with a dedication to the young people of Earth. The theme of his speech from the Moon was the wish for peace and harmony among the people of the world. He explained that Harrison Schmitt, his fellow astronaut on the Moon with him, had just picked up a very significant Moon rock that they hoped would bring this worldwide peace through the distribution of its fragments. This basalt was later identified as lunar basalt 70017, dubbed the "goodwill rock".
Once brought back, this Moon rock was broken up into small fragments and distributed in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to all the countries of the world and to the United States with its territories as a goodwill gesture.
The goodwill Moon rock fragment of 1.14 grams was placed inside a solid piece of acrylic lucite, the Moon rock being embedded inside the Lucite material when it was molten. The clear plastic ball was about the size of a billiard ball and partially flat at the bottom. It was then mounted and glued onto a 10 inch by 14 inch wooden plaque.
The next item directly below the Lucite ball was attached a metal plate of about 2 inches by 4 inches that read:
The fragment is a portion of a rock from the Taurus Valley of the Moon. It was part of a larger rock composed of many particles of different shapes and sizes, a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and mankind's hope for a future of peace and harmony.
The recipient's flag of about 4 inches by 6 inches (precisely 10.16 cm x 15.24 cm) was mounted directly below this metal plate covered with a clear plastic cover.
Another metal descriptive plate was attached directly below the recipient's flag that read:
This flag of your state was carried to the Moon aboard Spacecraft America during the Apollo XVII mission,
December 7–19, 1972.
Presented to the people of the state of
National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
If the wooded display went to a country of the world instead of one of the states of the United States then the word "state" was replaced with "nation" or "kingdom".
The Apollo 17 wooden plaque displays with the goodwill Moon rocks were presented to all the states of the United States and all the countries of the world on March 21, 1973. President Nixon sent a letter on that date that accompanied the lunar sample displays to all the worldwide countries and all the states of the United States and its possessions. National Archives in Washington D.C. has a copy of this letter:
The Apollo lunar landing program conducted by the United States has been brought to a successful conclusion. Men from the planet Earth have reached the first milestone in space. But as we stretch for the stars, we know that we stand also upon the shoulders of many men of many nations here on our own planet. In the deepest sense our exploration of the moon was truly an international effort.
It is for this reason that, on behalf of the people of the United States I present this flag, which was carried to the moon, to the State, and its fragment of the moon obtained during the final lunar mission of the Apollo program.
If people of many nations can act together to achieve the dreams of humanity in space, then surely we can act together to accomplish humanity's dream of peace here on earth. It was in this spirit that the United States of America went to the moon, and it is in this spirit that we look forward to sharing what we have done and what we have learned with all mankind.
Once the display with the Moon rock fragment and small flag was given as a gift to each of the recipients, these lunar sample displays became the property of the recipient that received it. NASA no longer gives away any Moon material and tracks all Moon soil material and Moon rocks, with the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 display gifts being the only exceptions. NASA does keep meticulous records on all other lunar samples worldwide and no longer gives gifts of Moon specimens. The Apollo 17 Moon rock fragment samples then come under the public gifts laws of the nation or state that received the display. In the case of each state of the United States public gifts cannot be legally transferred to individual ownership unless certain additional legislation allows it.
Rhode Island display
The recipients were 135 foreign countries, the 50 United States and its territories, and the United Nations. The nation or state that received the Moon rock also had its flag taken to the Moon and back by the crew of Apollo 17. This flag was also mounted on the commemorative plaque display with a message label below it saying it was a gift to the recipient.
The countries during Nixon's presidency that the plaques were given to were Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Dahomey, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique (in that time an overseas province of Portugal), Muscat and Oman, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, People’s Republic of China, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of China, Romania, Rwanda, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands (in that time a British overseas possession), Somalia, South Africa, Southern Yemen, Soviet Union, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Upper Volta, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, Vietnam, Western Samoa, Yemen, Yugoslavia, and Zambia.
Once the goodwill display with the Moon material was given, NASA offered no counseling or recommendations on how the caretaker or curator was to handle the Moon rocks. Their fate was in the hands of the recipient, which in many cases was not well managed. NASA did not give away as gifts any other Moon rock displays other than what was presented of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 Moon rock displays.
Certain samples of Moon rock and lunar dust soil from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions, mounted on the wooden plaque displays especially for Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Honduras, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, West Virginia were later reported missing by many of the recipients. Since 2005 certain entities and key people have made concerted efforts to find the current locations of all the Apollo lunar sample displays with the goodwill Moon rocks. One such person is Joseph Gutheinz (former NASA Office of Inspector General special agent for 10 years), who was a professor at the University of Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. Gutheinz even went to the extreme of having his hundreds of students try to locate all these displays. Another space history expert tracking the goodwill lunar displays is Robert Pearlman, founder and editor of collectSPACE, a website devoted to space-related artifacts and memorabilia.