Alaska’s moon rocks return to State Museum in Juneau

Alaska moon rocks

Alaska’s moon rocks on display at the State Museum in Juneau. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Alaska’s long lost moon rocks are back in Juneau and on display at the State Museum through at least the end of the month.

The rocks actually are tiny fragments of moon dust collected by Apollo 11 astronauts in July 1969, and later presented to Governor Keith Miller by President Richard Nixon.

In 1973, the rocks and the plaque to which they’re mounted went missing after the Alaska Transportation Museum in Anchorage was destroyed by arson. They fell into the possession of Coleman Anderson, the foster son of that museum’s curator. He held them until 2011, when he sued the state seeking permanent ownership by claiming they had been abandoned. After some negotiations, Anderson finally agreed earlier this year to give the moon rocks back.

State Museum Curator of Collections Steve Henrickson is delighted to have them back.

“I’ve always dreamed about someday getting these back,” Henrickson says. “In fact, my first week of work in 1988, I was handed a file of the moon rock information and I was told ‘Pay attention to this. This is going to come back, and we need to be ready when it does.’”

Henrickson says the plaque suffered some damage when Anderson tried to clean it. But for the most part it’s in pretty good shape.

The plan is to put it on permanent display at the new State Library Archives and Museum facility scheduled to open in early 2016. He says its disappearance and return to state ownership will be part of the exhibit.

“It really has taken on a life of its own,” Henrickson says. “After it left the moon a new chapter of its history was written and we do want to talk about that.”

The moon rocks are on display at the State Museum through at least December.

Henrickson says he’s received several requests from other facilities in the state to temporarily host the moon rocks in the future.