HOUSTON – An Apollo-era moon rock gifted to the State of Alaska as a goodwill gesture by President Richard M. Nixon and thought to have been lost has been in the possession of a man who found it as a teenager in 1973, according to court documents obtained by KHOU 11 News.
In a lawsuit filed against the State of Alaska, Arthur C. Anderson claimed that he is the rightful owner of the moon rock, which the lawsuit said he found in a pile of debris after a fire at the Transportation Branch of the Alaska State Museum in Anchorage.
The lawsuit was filed four months after Elizabeth Riker, a University of Phoenix graduate student, researched the whereabouts of the Alaska moon rock as part of a class project and published a report in the Capital City Weekly.
"I just kind of figured, when I was given this assignment, 'Oh, come on, I'm never going to find this,'" Rinker told KHOU 11 News. "The whole chain of events that led to the discovery and even the discovery itself … I mean … it's mindboggling."
Presidents Nixon and Gerald R. Ford gifted nearly 300 moon rocks to 135 nations and the 50 states.
Nearly half are missing, said Joseph Gutheinz, Rinker’s professor and a former senior special agent at the NASA Office of Inspector General at Johnson Space Center.
Gutheinz said NASA never tracked the good will moon rocks.
"It's like looking at an inverted stamp or a misprinted coin," Gutheinz said. "It has a great deal of value to a collector. If anybody has it in their possession they have something that is extraordinarily rare and valuable."
Gutheinz said his students had located 77 moon rocks since 2002, including three that went missing in Colorado, Missouri and West Virginia.
Those rocks, he said, were returned after their respective governors discovered they had mistakenly taken them.
Some moon rocks were valued as high as $5 million.
Last week, NASA recovered moon dust that had been posted for sale at an auction in St. Louis.