Alaska finally has its moon rocks.
State officials announced Thursday that a set of moon rocks displayed at an Alaska museum have finally been returned nearly forty years later.
The rocks, displayed at Transportation Museum in Juneau, Alaska, disappeared after an arson fire nearly four decades ago. The moon rocks — some of the most rare rocks on Earth — were part of a nationwide program headed by NASA, which had created identical plaques to present to every state — each of which contained dense, black moon rock fragments. The moon rocks in question were collected on the Apollo XI mission in 1969 and they were later presented by President Richard Nixon to Alaska Governor Keith Miller.
The rock were then displayed at the museum. The setup was somewhat unusual: the moon rocks were encased in an acrylic glass ball and mounted on a walnut plaque. Four years later, the museum was torched in an act of arson and the plaque seemed lost.
According to various witnesses, the rocks survived the fire and were not disposed in the days following.
The mystery of the missing moon rocks stretched on for nearly forty years following the fire. The whereabouts of the moon rocks was largely unknown until 2010, when Anderson Coleman, a fisherman who has appeared on the Deadliest Catch, filed for ownership of the plague. Anderson, a foster child of a museum employee, said the plague was taken home during safe-keeping.
“We think they were removed undamaged by (museum director Phil) Redden and put in a locked cabinet in his office and then taken to his house under the auspices of safe keeping,” said Bob Banghart, chief curator at the Alaska State Museums, according to Anchorage Daily News. “We don’t know how Mr. Anderson acquired them and through what process.”
Speaking Thursday, Alaska state officials said the suit was largely irrelevant as the moon rocks are actually the property of the U.S. government and Alsaka is simply the custodian. The fact was enough to convince Anderson to drop the lawsuit, eventually leading to the recovery of the moons rocks.
“We were eventually able to persuade the plaintiff that he should dismiss this case,” said Assistant Attorney General Neil Slotnick, who compiled evidence in the lawsuit.
Before Alaska took receipt of the plaque this week, NASA had held the plaque and rocks as a neutral third party at the Johnson Space Center in Houston since March. Officials at the U.S. space agency confirmed the authenticity of the rocks earlier this year.
According to various news sources, the rocks will be on display through December. Alaska officials say the rocks will then be available for viewing online