Believe it or not, one of the engineers who built the lunar module for the Apollo 12, the second moon landing, snuck aboard a tiny ceramic chip containing original artwork by six of the American art world's biggest names, including Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg, creating a permanent miniature art museum on the moon.
The tiny tile holding all six pieces -- which is only three-quarters of an inch by half an inch -- was affixed to one of the legs on the lunar module.
But now, the whole picture of how the mini museum made it to the moon is coming to light thanks to the PBS series "History Detectives," which has its 8th season premiere on June 21.
The show features four history experts who track down the history of obscure artifacts sent in by readers.
In this case, series host and historian Gwendolyn Wright found out about this piece of history from Jade Dellinger, a Florida-based art curator who bought a reproduction of the tile via an online auction.
Wright admits she was skeptical about the tile's provenance, but after all the research now admits it's one of the "strangest, most exciting" experiences of her life.
"I will never think of the moon in the same way again," Wright said. "This case truly surprised me. What I thought seemed impossible, at first, became an amazing story of art winning its place alongside science, and some playful innovation that is sure to intrigue history buffs, space lovers and art aficionados alike."
As artworks go, none of the pieces here are going to stand next to these artists' greatest works. For instance, the Warhol piece is basically his initials made to look like a rocket or a phallic symbol depending on your mindset, and Rauschenburg's contribution is a single minimalist line. Meanwhile, David Novros and John Chamberlain contributed drawings that look like circuitry.
The artists did normal-sized pieces and then Bell Laboratories scientist Fred Waldhauer reduced the artists' sketches and imprinted them onto the ceramic wafer using state-of-the-art technology of the time. Waldhauer made a number of tiles -- one for the lunar module, and copies as souvenirs for the artists and other participants.
But to Wright, the real story isn't the quality of the art -- it's the bravery of the engineers who decided it was important that art, one of the things that separates mankind from the animals, should be represented on the moon.
"I had this image of NASA being totally controlled, but I realized once again that no bureaucracy has complete control," Wright said. "Engineers are seen as dull, but they're always playing around. That's how you get new things -- by breaking the rules."
Myers actually tried to get the art aboard Apollo 12 by going through normal channels, but while NASA officials never said no, they never said yes, either, leaving the project in limbo. That is, until a contact hooked him up with the mysterious "John F.," an aerospace engineer who worked on the rocket.
This "unknown solderer," as some people call him, promised to send Myers a telegram when the mini museum was stuck onto the craft. Shortly before the rocket launch was set to begin, he got one, reading, "You're on. A-OK. All systems are go," and signed "John F."
While the real identity of John F. remains a mystery, Richard Kupczyk, the Grumman launch pad foreman for the Apollo 12 mission, suggests it may be a pseudonym to protect the engineer's real identity; he imagines the name was chosen as a nod to John F. Kennedy, the president who championed the space program.
"There were 68 technicians who worked on the project, but NASA tried to control everything," Kupczyk said.
However, "try" is the operative word. Astronauts, like Alan Bean, who piloted the Apollo 12 lunar module, and mission commander Charles "Pete" Conrad were allowed to bring personal items from home -- and the engineers also wanted in on the fun.
The engineers snuck these personal items by tucking them in the 16 layers of mylar blankets that protected the spacecraft from heat and cold during its journey.
"Some people would put a picture of their wife in there," Kupczyk said. "I actually was terminated for creating a giant sign that said 'Congratulations' and sneaking it aboard.
Kupczyk said the engineers were celebrating the successful landing of Apollo 12 with some cocktails and one of the engineers who was a little drunk mentioned the sign to a reporter who then quizzed someone else.
The resulting news story cost Kupczyk his job -- for two weeks.
"They called me up two weeks after firing me and hired me back because there wasn't anybody who could do what I did," Kupczyk said. "There was an envelope in my desk with the money I would have earned. The other guys took a collection so I wouldn't lose money.
"It's funny. Forty years ago, I got fired and now they put me on the news," he added.
Wright says stories like Kupczyk's are the best part of her job, and brought back the uniqueness of the moon landings.
She believes that in the 41 years since the Apollo 11 mission, people have lost sight of how extraordinary an achievement the moon landing was. She figures it's because the focus is on the astronauts, not the engineers who made it possible.
"I think the reason why the moon landings haven't had as much resonance as they should is because the men who were chosen to be astronauts were the least interesting men," she said.
"But with good reason. They were sent to do a specific mission and follow orders. They'd never let guys like Kupczyk on the moon."