NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus may finally get its piece of the moon.
Some 40 years ago, the Mediterranean island nation was supposed to receive a 1.1 gram piece of moon rock from the United States. The rock was one of 270 such lunar samples U.S. astronauts brought back from Apollo moon missions in 1969 and 1972 that the Nixon administration gave as gifts to foreign countries.
But the item vanished — allegedly taken by a relative of an American diplomat. And with Cyprus reeling from war and internal strife in 1974, the year the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Rodger P. Davies assassinated, the rock was never presented to the tiny country.
Three years ago, the moon rock was returned to NASA and locked up in a vault. On Wednesday, a Cyprus Foreign Ministry official said U.S. authorities are favorably considering a Cypriot request that the rock be handed over.
The official, who insisted on anonymity because he's not authorized to speak to the media, said it will still take some time before the rock reaches Cyprus because some bureaucratic hurdles are involved.
The lunar souvenir is encased in a plastic globe. An attached plaque reads, "This fragment is a portion of a rock from the Taurus Littrow valley of the Moon. It is given as a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and carries with it the hope of the American people for a world at peace."
Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Arizona instructor and U.S. former government investigator who has been tracking down missing moon rocks, told The Associated Press that the Cyprus moon sample was taken by a relative of a U.S. diplomat who had been posted to the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia at the time.
Gutheinz said that in 2009, he put pressure on the individual with the rock to "do the right thing" and return it, while urging U.S. authorities to reclaim it. The pressure worked, he said, and the individual returned the rock to NASA after a five-month-long negotiation.
Many lunar samples gifted to other nations have been stolen, were destroyed or went missing, Gutheinz said.