Nearly forty years after disappearing in a fire, precious moon rocks such as this one, will be on display one again at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo : Reuters)
Nearly 40 years ago, rare and precious rocks brought from the moon vanished from the Alaska State Museum in Juneau during a fire.
Decades later, those rocks have made their way back home.
On Thursday, Alaska state and federal officials displayed lost moon rocks-among the rarest rocks on the planet-at the state museum for the first time since they disappeared following a museum fire in 1973.
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As the Alaska Dispatch reported, the rocks were collected on the famous Apollo XI moon mission in 1969 and were presented to Alaska's Gov. Keith Miller by former President Richard Nixon. The rocks were gathered by legendary space pioneers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who took roughly 48.5 pounds of moon rocks back to earth.
After the mission, NASA created identical plaques containing the moon rocks to present to every state, with Alaska's plaque containing a state flag that made the voyage with Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon. However, the plaque with the moon rocks disappeared in 1973 after an arsonist set fire to the building.
While it was unknown at that time, the rocks were in the possession of Coleman Anderson, who was the foster child of a museum employee who took the artifacts home for safe-keeping during the clean-up of the fire and left them in a storage facility.
According to the Dispatch, Anderson says he found the rocks in a pile of debris on the museum floor, and took possession of them after his foster parent left Alaska. Roughly 37 years after he left the state himself, Anderson sued the state for possession of the rocks, claiming that the state had abandoned the property.
"He claimed that after the fire he found the plaque in the rubble and debris at the museum site, and that he saved it from destruction," Alaska Assistant Attorney General Neil Slotnick told Alaska Dispatch in August.
However, as RedOrbit.com reports, the state launched a counter suit against Anderson, who was planning to resell the rocks back to the state after being declared the owner.
We were eventually able to persuade the plaintiff that he should dismiss this case," Slotnick, who compiled evidence for the state in the case, told the Associated Press.
Daniel P. Harris, a Seattle-based attorney who represents Anderson, said that his client had actually saved the moon rocks from disappearing.
"He recovered those moon rocks. Without him, who knows where they could be or whether they would exist today. But in the end, the state was unwilling to pay any reward," Harris said. "It just was not worth Coleman's time or money to fight the state on that."
With the rocks back in the state's possession. Bob Banghart, chief curator of the Alaska State Museums, says that the museum doesn't have any plans at this time to take the rocks on a state tour, although, he told the Alaska Dispatch, that the idea was "something to consider."
The museum will make the moon rocks available via a virtual display available on the Alaska State Museum's online web site exhibit, visible on this link.