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SD Air and Space Museum to get lunar sample

RAPID CITY (AP) -- The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is getting its own moon rock.

Officials with the Ellsworth Heritage Foundation Board, the governing and fundraising organization behind the museum in Rapid City, have been working on the acquisition since 2007, according to media reports.

"We felt it would be something you wouldn't expect to see in western South Dakota," foundation president Mike Schwab said.

The lunar sample coming to the museum outside Ellsworth Air Force Base is a smaller bit of a larger rock collected by the Apollo 15 astronauts during their flight in 1971.

Apollo 15 was the fourth mission to land on the moon and the eighth successful manned mission. It was also the first mission in which the lunar roving vehicle was used, and crew members brought back 170 pounds of "lunar surface material."

"It's appropriate that we're getting a sample from Apollo 15 because they were the first all-Air Force crew," Schwab said.

A representative of the group must go to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to pick up the rock. Engwall said it could take another year before the lunar sample could be displayed.

Moon rocks don't come cheap. Schwab estimates that travel to get the rock, plus equipping the museum with an airtight display unit and security system, could cost more than $40,000.

"They want it displayed in a professional way," museum director Carl Engwall said.

Schwab said the lunar sample will be a great addition to the museum, which provides information about the history of U.S. Air Force aviation and promotes South Dakota aviation history.

The museum's displays have undergone a face-lift over the past few years, and nearly 80 percent of the planes in the outside display have been refurbished.

"It's not the same museum you saw as a kid," Schwab said.