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Alaska's moon rocks back in NASA's hands

Court to decide ownership of Apollo 11 mission rocks

Posted: August 10, 2012 - 12:05am

Alaska’s historic moon rocks, collected by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969, are back in NASA’s custody.

Now, Alaska State Museums Curator Bob Banghart says he’d like to see them back in an Alaska museum.

“They belong to the state of Alaska, and they belong in the museum’s collection,” said Banghart, who has been following the case of the moon rocks for years.

The moon rocks were a gift to Alaska by President Richard Nixon just after Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

They’ve been missing for decades, before surfacing in an unusual way recently.

Coleman Anderson sued the state, claiming he owned the rocks and wanted to be declared the legitimate owner. The Alaska Attorney General’s Office, representing the museum, is disputing the claim.

It is not clear where Anderson, once an Alaska resident, now lives. He is represented by Seattle attorney Dan Harris, who was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The rocks were in the Alaska Transportation Museum in Anchorage in 1973 when the museum burned and the rocks went missing. That museum no longer exists.

The tiny rocks, encased in plastic, had been distributed to every state. The display plaque included a small Alaska flag that had also been to the moon.

Assistant Attorney General Neil Slotnick represents the museum in the case. He was unavailable Thursday but presented a summary of the case to the Board of Education recently.

Slotnick said that Anderson’s claim of how he came to possess the moon rocks did not convey ownership of the rocks.

“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,” Slotnick said.

Whether that account holds sway with the court will be decided later, but Slotnick said the state was successful in getting a court order to force Anderson to turn the moon rocks over to NASA for verification and safekeeping until eventual ownership is established.

Anderson first objected, saying the rocks were overseas, but did comply with the order, Slotnick said.

Banghart said the Alaska State Museum has made no decisions yet about how or if they’d be exhibited, but noted that an ongoing expansion project gives the museum two-and-a half-times the exhibit space than it now has, and it will have room for more artifacts.

“We haven’t made any decision yet about what kinds of stories we might be able to tell with them,” Banghart said.

Display decisions would hinge upon what they think people in the Alaska community might be interested in, he said.

A trial to establish ownership is scheduled for early next year.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com

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