Thieves swipe moon lander replica from Armstrong museum

A solid-gold replica of the moon lander that carried Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface in 1969 was stolen from a museum in his hometown last Friday, just days after a bag used by the Apollo 11 astronaut to collect samples was sold at auction for the reported sum of $1.8 million.

According to CNET and Gizmodo, the five-inch tall replica Lunar Excursion Module was one of three that had been created by renowned French jeweler Cartier and presented to each member of the Apollo 11 crew. Since 1973, Armstrong’s had been on display at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio – until its theft last week, that is.

In a statement, the Wapakoneta police department said that they received a call of an alarm at the museum being triggered at 11:59 pm Eastern on Friday. Initially, the replica was believed to have been the only item stolen, but officers later told the Dayton Daily News that medals, presentation coins and other artifacts from the same 25-item exhibit had also been discovered missing.

“We’re incredibly disappointed in the event, that somebody would take an item like this and would rob a museum, and would take cultural items away from the public,” Armstrong museum Executive Director Chris Burton told the Daily News. “Our greatest concern is that the object is returned… so that future generations can get an opportunity to enjoy it.”

Experts concerned that the artifact will be melted down, sold

The replica was created after French newspaper Le Figaro asked its readers to contribute money to create a special tribute to the Apollo 11 astronauts, Gizmodo said. Those donations were used to craft reproductions of the lander that were presented to Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, and each had a microfilm containing the donor’s names affixed to the base.

Armstrong died in 2012, and his model was entrusted to the museum named in his honor, which was built in 1973. Police told the Daily News that they were not sure why this particular exhibit was targeted by thieves, as the replica was not being featured in the museum at this time. Police also said that they were unable to obtain a description of the thieves from surveillance video.

Wapakoneta police also said that the value of the item “cannot be determined,” and that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI were assisting with the investigation. While it may be difficult to determine how much the replica is worth, NPR said that Cartier reacquired the one that it had given to Collins for $56,000 at an auction 14 years ago.

There is some concern over whether or not the item will be able to be recovered. according to the Associated Press. Texas-based attorney Joseph Gutheinz Jr., who previously worked as a federal agent with NASA, told the AP that he fears that the person/persons who stole the artifact plan to melt it down for the value of the gold instead of attempting to sell it as a collectable item.

As Gutheinz explained, the museum was also home to a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission that he believes could be smuggled out of the country, authenticated and sold for several million dollars. “Either they didn’t have easy access to the moon rock, or they weren’t into collectibles,” he told the wire service. If they are indeed looking to melt down the replica and sell the gold for
“a quick buck,” he added, it would be a “damn shame.”


Image credit: Cartier Collection