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A bit of a big deal

St. Petersburg's Admiral Farragut Academy will soon be presented with a tiny pebble worth protection by bullet-proof glass - because it's just that out of this world.

Published April 28, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Thirty-four years ago, a graduate of St. Petersburg's Admiral Farragut Academy landed on the moon. And because of that, a tiny piece of the moon has landed at Admiral Farragut.

Charles M. Duke Jr., a retired astronaut who flew on NASA's Apollo 16 mission, plans to formally present a moon rock to the school at a May 8 ceremony that is open to the public.

The rock, encased in a cylinder of Lucite, is a 0.056-ounce pebble that no one would notice if he stepped over it in the street. But risk and rarity make it a precious stone.

It came from the lower slope of Stone Mountain - and not the one in Georgia. It was gathered on the Apollo 16 mission and is one of about 840 pounds of lunar material that U.S. astronauts brought to Earth after six manned missions to the moon.

Admiral Farragut's moon rock will be on permanent display to the public.

"To have the moon rock is really kind of a capstone event for us," said school commandant Robert M. Flanagan, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general. He called the moon rock "a physical reminder of what is the realm of the possible."

Duke, 70, a retired Air Force brigadier general, graduated from Admiral Farragut in 1953 and was the valedictorian. His 1972 journey to the moon was the fifth manned flight there.

NASA has given moon rocks to 40 astronauts and others associated with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions under a program called Ambassadors of Exploration.

"The primary purpose is to try to inspire people about exploration," said NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs. "Whenever a moon rock is on display, it all attracts a lot of attention."

The astronauts and other recipients of the award are expected to give their lunar samples to a museum or a school of their choosing, with the agreement that the moon rock must be kept open to the public.

Flanagan said Admiral Farragut is taking that provision seriously.

"I hope we're going to get thousands of people" to come see it, he said.

Although NASA formally still owns the rock, Flanagan said, it is essentially on permanent loan to the school.

To make sure no one else "borrows" it, the school is installing an extensive security system. The rock encased in the Lucite will be stored in a concrete vault with panels of 1.5-inch-thick bullet-proof glass. The school also is installing an alarm system and surveillance cameras.

Duke will speak at the ceremony at 10 a.m. May 8 at the school, and the public is invited. Earlier in the day, Duke will appear with students at the K-12 school.

"I would say that there's a little bit of a buzz about it" among students, Flanagan said.

Although staffers, students and teachers are excited about the moon rock, it is not the school's only brush with history. Flanagan said the school's holdings include a sword from the Civil War used by Adm. David Glasgow Farragut, the school's namesake.

Also, Alan B. Shepard Jr., the first American in space, graduated from Farragut's former sister campus in New Jersey.

Duke was born in Charlotte, N.C. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1957, he entered the Air Force and later earned a master's degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to his NASA biography.

Duke became an astronaut in 1966 and in 1969 served as "CAPCOM" - an on-the-ground liaison - with the astronauts of Apollo 11, the first manned moon landing.

On Apollo 16, he accompanied Cmdr. John W. Young and Thomas K. Mattingly II. Duke and Young - who graduated from high school in Orlando - spent 72 hours on the moon. While there, Duke spent more than 20 hours outside the spacecraft and on the moon's surface. The crew brought back 240 pounds of moon rocks for future study, including the one that will soon be stored at Admiral Farragut.


AGE: 70

EDUCATION: Graduated from Admiral Farragut Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Served on the astronaut support crew for Apollo 10, CAPCOM for Apollo 11 and backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 13 and 17. He was lunar pilot on Apollo 16.


At left is the rock that will be on display, shown at twice its actual size. NASA retrieved about 840 pounds of lunar material on six manned flights. These are not the only pieces of the moon on Earth. The former Soviet Union retrieved a small amount of lunar rocks with an unmanned spacecraft. Duke's rock was gathered during the 1972 Apollo 16 mission from an area called Stone Mountain.

[Last modified April 28, 2006, 22:53:59]

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