Missing Relics


By Mr. Curmudgeon:

I was a high school senior in 1974. And Mr. Lomax was one of the “cool” teachers. Not for teaching English, but for sponsoring the Science Fiction Club at Benjamin Franklin High School in Los Angeles. That same year, he convened a science fiction fair.

Lomax was one connected guy: he managed to snag an appearance by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who brought a film with Starship Enterprise bloopers. Legendary sci-fi authors Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Bradbury also made appearances, with 20th Century Fox providing artist renderings for their film Planet of the Apes.

My role was to guard the object sitting on a table in a corner of the school library, which served as a temporary exhibition hall. The item was mounted atop a small wooden post shielded by a glass dome. When a classmate picked it up and shook it like a snow globe, I was horrified. I seized it, put it back on the table and told him not to touch it. After all, it was 4.5 billion-years-old and had traveled at least 239 million miles to Earth. At the time, it had been on our little blue planet a mere five years. Two Americans risked their lives collecting the object that contained metallic flakes that sparkled like glitter. It was a rock purloined from the lunar surface by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that the Alaska Transportation Museum in Anchorage found its moon rock – having lost it four decades ago. An arsonist’s fire leveled the museum in 1973 and the relic was believed destroyed … and was soon forgotten.

It turns out it was in Texas. Coleman Anderson, stepson of the museum’s former curator, had possession of the moon fragments, which President Richard Nixon had encased in acrylic and mounted to a wooden plaque with a small Alaskan state flag. Nixon presented it to Alaska’s governor in 1969.

Anderson insisted he rescued the lunar fragments from the museum’s post-fire rubble and claimed ownership. However, he told the museum he would be willing to part with his prize for a price.

Alaska’s Attorney General, Neil Slotnick, didn’t quite see it that way. “The state was armed with witness accounts that the moon rocks survived the fire and were not lumped with debris,” the AP reported. Alaska sued Anderson, who was ordered to hand over his prize. Last Thursday, the plaque was returned to the people of Alaska.

“Many times I feel that plaintiffs are asking for the moon,” Slotnick told the AP, “This is the first time that that was literally true.”

Of the 270 moon rocks conveyed to Earth by six Apollo moon missions, at least 180 are missing and unaccounted for.