Priceless works of art have been lost at sea for as long as people have traveled by ship. Back in 1969, a tiny wafer imprinted with the works of six master artists was “lost at space.” But this etching, called the “Moon Museum,” contained miniaturized artwork by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and four others. It was purposefully left on the moon surface with the help of a mysterious NASA insider known only as “John F.” Forty years later, Space.com reports that history sleuths are trying to find the true identity of this enigmatic space art enabler.

A new show called “History Detectives” premieres June 21 on PBS — and one of the first shows is dedicated to the mystery of the “Moon Museum.” The now infamous wafer of artwork traveled aboard Apollo 12, the second lunar mission to the moon in November 1969. The “Moon Museum” was slipped under a thermal blanket of the Intrepid — the spacecraft that landed on the moon during this mission. NASA has no official record of this incident.

The “Moon Museum” measured just three-quarters by one-half by 1/40-inch, and was the brainchild of artist Forrest "Frosty" Myers. Myers wanted to send his work, and the work of others, to the moon, but NASA refused the offer. As Myers explained, "Going to the moon was the biggest thing in our generation … My idea was to get six great artists together and make it a tiny little museum that would be on the moon."

The mission was eventually accomplished. Myers, a sculpture, created a linked symbol. Painter David Novros and sculptor John Chamberlain designed symbols that looked like circuitry. Pop sculptor Claes Oldenburg drew a Mickey Mouse creation, and Robert Rauschenberg drew one straight line. Andy Warhol contributed a design that looked like male genitalia. All of the designs were infused onto a tiny wafer and hidden aboard the Intrepid.

But who helped the “Moon Museum” make it into space remains a mystery. Myers was put in contact with an engineer who worked at Grumman Aircraft, where the lunar modules were constructed. An anonymous engineer there agreed to help. Just two days before the scheduled mission, Myers received the go-ahead. As Space.com reports, the message to Myers was "Your On 'A.O.K. All System Are Go" (sic) the Western Union-delivered message read. It was signed "John F."

The identity of John F. has remained a mystery ever since. There is no record of a man matching the initials ever working at Grumman Aircraft. Apollo 12 lunar module pilot Alan Bean speculates that the mysterious helper could have simply been paying homage to President John F. Kennedy, whose vision initially inspired the space program. (Bean is reported to have left several undeveloped rolls of film on the moon.) The PBS show “History Detectives” aims to enlists the public’s help to identify the real John F.

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MNN homepage photo: NASA