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Alaska lunar sample displays facts for kids

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Buzz salutes the U.S. Flag
Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on the Moon

The Alaska lunar sample displays are two commemorative plaques consisting of small fragments of Moon specimen brought back with the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 lunar missions and given in the 1970s to the people of the state of Alaska by United States President Richard Nixon as goodwill gifts.


Apollo 11

Moon 3
Plaques on the California Apollo 11 lunar sample display, similar to the display in Alaska

The Alaska Apollo 11 lunar sample display commemorative podium style plaque consists of four "Moon rock" rice size particle specimens that were collected by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969 and a small Alaska state flag that was taken to the Moon and back on Apollo 11.

The four "Moon rocks" weigh about 0.05 grams total and are entirely enveloped in a clear plastic button the size of a coin which is mounted to a wooden board approximately a foot square on a small podium pedestal display. The small podium plaque display also has mounted on it a small Alaska state flag of about 4 inches by 6 inches (10.16 cm x 15.24 cm) that was taken to the Moon and back, which lies directly below the "goodwill Moon rocks". The small podium plaque display was given to the people of the state of Alaska as a gift by President Richard Nixon. Similar lunar sample displays were also distributed to all the other states of the United States and all the countries (at the time) of the world.

The messages at the bottom of the wooden podium plaque display read:

Presented to
the people of the state of
Richard Nixon
President of the United States of America.

This flag of your state was carried
to the Moon and back by Apollo 11 and
this fragment of the Moon's surface was
brought to Earth by the crew of that first
crewed lunar landing.

Apollo 17

Apollo 17 Goodwill msg1
Message on Apollo 17 plaque

The Alaska Apollo 17 lunar sample display commemorative style plaque display, measuring 10 by 14 inches, consists of one "Moon rock" particle specimen that was cut from lunar basalt 70017 and placed in a clear Lucite ball about the size of a billiard ball. The plaque display also has in the center a small Alaska state flag about 4 inches by 6 inches (10.16 cm x 15.24 cm). The lunar basalt 70017 was collected by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt on the Moon in 1972. Once lunar basalt 70017 was brought back to Earth from the Moon, the basalt Moon rock was cut up into small fragments of approximately 1 gram. The specimen was enveloped in a plastic ball and mounted on the wooden plaque along with the Alaska state flag which had been taken to the Moon and back by the crew of Apollo 17. The plaque was then distributed in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to the state of Alaska as he did that year to the other 49 states (the same as for the Apollo 11 plaque gifts). This was done as a goodwill gesture to promote peace and harmony.


Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry
Alaska Transportation and Industry Museum

The Alaska Apollo 11 lunar commemorative wooden plaque display was on public viewing at the Alaska Transportation Museum in Anchorage in 1973. In September of that year, the museum burned down under suspicious circumstances and the Apollo 11 Alaska lunar plaque display was reported missing. It is suspected that an arsonist started the museum fire on September 6, 1973.

The Alaska Apollo 11 lunar plaque display mysteriously resurfaced in 2010. Texas resident Coleman Anderson claimed he had found the "goodwill Moon rocks" plaque display in the burned-out remains of the museum site when he was a teenager in 1973. Anderson was the stepson of the museum curator of the time. According to Anderson, he combed through the debris and stumbled upon the Alaska Apollo 11 plaque display. It had a thick layer of ashes on it, but he thought he could clean it up once he got it home. He thought it to be a "cool" souvenir. He said the garbage workers saw him combing through the burned debris but didn't stop him. Anderson claimed he saved the plaque with the "Moon rocks" from destruction and safeguarded it for 38 years. Anderson sued the state of Alaska to be compensated for protecting the plaque, or be declared the legitimate owner of the Alaska "goodwill Moon rocks" commemorative plaque display.

In his lawsuit, Anderson stated that after the museum fire, the fire area was roped off immediately and the only people allowed inside were museum employees and emergency personnel. When the fire investigation ended and the displays that could be recovered were removed, garbage trucks were sent in to pick up the remaining debris. Anderson claimed that the burned debris and ashes were being discarded by the museum, so anything within these would be considered forfeited and unclaimed, and therefore public property.

The Alaska Assistant Attorney General, representing the Alaska State Museum and the people of Alaska, challenged Anderson's claims. The Assistant Attorney General obtained a court order to get the Alaska "Moon rocks" plaque display into the hands of NASA for safekeeping until a final determination could be made by a judge and a higher court. This determination should be finalized sometime in 2013.

The Alaska Apollo 17 "goodwill Moon rocks" display is presently being held at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.

Anderson v. Alaskan State Museums

Arthur C. Anderson, an individual Plaintiff v. The State of Alaska an Alaskan State Museums, and agency of the State, Defendants also known as Anderson v. Alaskan State Museums is an Alaska State civil case filed on December 20, 2010 by attorney Daniel P. Harris in the Superior Court of Alaska Third Judicial District at Anchorage. The subject in this case is the Apollo 11 Moon Rock and plaque that was presented in 1969 by Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, to Keith Harvey Miller, Governor of Alaska.

Elizabeth Riker
Elizabeth Riker

On August 18, 2010 Elizabeth Riker wrote a story for the Capital City Weekly wherein she disclosed her findings that the Alaskan Apollo 11 Moon Rock and plaque that President Nixon gifted to the state were missing. Riker was then a criminal justice graduate student at the University of Phoenix and a member of the Moon Rock Project, where students are assigned by their professor the task of hunting down Moon rocks all over the world, her assignment was the Alaskan Apollo 11 Moon Rock.

Riker's story led to Arthur Coleman Anderson learning that a Moon rock he found as a 17-year-old after a fire at the Transportation Museum in Anchorage had great value, which caused him to file a lawsuit against Alaska and the Alaskan State Museums to either win the right to lawfully own the Apollo 11 Moon Rock and plaque or to be compensated for its care since 1973. Arthur Anderson, who also goes by his middle name Coleman, was a skipper on the first season of the television series The Deadliest Catch.

The dispute was protracted, and involved multiple parties and cross claims.

On August 10, 2012, pending the outcome of the case, the Alaskan Apollo 11 Moon Rock and plaque were placed under the control of NASA. The Alaska Attorney General's Office claimed that the Moon rock still belongs to the museum, and represented the museum in the lawsuit.

The missing Moon rocks were returned by Anderson as of December 7, 2012.

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