Most people who want to see the moon look up in the sky; others visit the numerous NASA visitor centers or science museums who are lucky enough to have Lunar Samples. The citizens of St Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Area usually just drive across the state to Kennedy Space Center to get their fix. However, what most people don’t realize is that there’s something out of this world right in their own back yards.
A few miles west of downtown St Petersburg, Florida, lies the Admiral Farragut Academy, a naval-centric military boarding school. Originally located in New Jersey, the academy opened a second campus in Florida after increasing popularity in attendance.
The academy has the distinction of graduating two men who would later walk on the Moon - Charlie Duke and Alan Shepard. Duke’s career is only slightly more prominent, but that is because he attended the St Petersburg campus while Shepard attended the original one in New Jersey.
The moon rock on display is Duke’s Ambassador of Exploration award, which have been given out by NASA since 2004. They are awarded to individuals or astronauts who have significantly contributed to the goal of landing a man on the moon in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. They consist of a small lunar sample encased in Lucite; since moon rocks are government property and can not be privately held, the award must be displayed publicly. When Duke received the award in 2006, he chose to display it at his old alma mater in St Petersburg.
The display features a mural of both Shepard and Duke on the lunar surface, with plaques describing each man’s Naval and Spaceflight careers. The award is located in a cubby hole in the middle. It is located just inside the main entrance at Farragut Hall.
Shepard’s legacy at the school is evident through a small reflective area just across from the school’s main entrance. A small plaque commemorates his accomplishments, and two small medallions of his mission patches adorn either side.
If you’re in the St Petersburg area and wish to see the moon rock, it is open to the public. However, since it is an active school campus, you must first register your visit at the office. Since the display is across e hall from the office, it’s not difficult to find. If you call ahead and let them know that you would like to see it, they will direct you towards the appropriate steps. Normal business hours are 8-5 Monday through Friday.
The academy is located at 501 Park Street North, St Petersburg, Florida.
It’s surprising to many people the Space heritage located in St Petersburg. I’ll admit even I was surprised. There is even a connection to Apollo 1, but that’s a whole different story….