Trials & Litigation
Fishing Captain Fights Court Battle for Moon Rock He Says He Saved from Museum Trash
Posted Jul 12, 2011 4:21 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
A piece of the moon presented to the state of Alaska in 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon was missing for almost 37 years.
But it surfaced against last year, after a lawyer who has made it his life mission to track down the 230 moon rocks presented to various government agencies after the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 lunar missions helped persuade a newspaper to run an article about the missing artifact.
A fishing captain then filed suit against the state, seeking a declaration that he is the owner of the moon rock. Coleman Anderson, now 55 and living in Corpus Christi, Texas, says he saved it from being discarded in 1973 when the Alaska Transportation Museum in Anchorage threw it away after a fire, recounts the Seattle Times.
Only 17 at the time, Anderson says he took the plastic plaque containing the rock fragments in plain sight of garbage workers as they were removing the trash after the museum finished its salvage operations, according to the newspaper.
"Plaintiff thought it was 'cool' and that he might be able to clean it up and turn it into a great souvenir," his complaint says. It argues, alternatively, that the moon rock is Anderson's because the state discarded it and made no effort to reclaim it for decades or that Anderson should be compensated for the time and effort he spent saving and restoring it.
A student of Houston attorney Joe Gutheinz, who formerly sought missing moon rocks as a senior investigator for NASA's Office of Inspector General and now does so as an avocation, was quoted in a newspaper article about the missing Alaska moon rock. The news that it was being sought then made its way to Anderson and sparked his lawsuit.
"Coleman Anderson has something that represents more than just dust locked away in Lucite," says Gutheinz. "He has in his clutches a piece of the greatness of America. ... It may be hard for Mr. Anderson to give up a piece of the moon. But he should do it."