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Court to Decide If Man Can Keep His Moon Rock 390

Posted by samzenpus
from the dark-side-of-the-moon-rocks dept.
Joe Gutheinz, a former senior investigator for NASA's Office of Inspector General, has made it his goal to collect all 230 moon rocks presented by the US to governments around the world, and put them in a museum. Deadliest Catch Captain Coleman Anderson wants to keep his little piece of the moon. Anderson says he found the rock in the trash mixed with debris following a fire at an Anchorage museum in 1973. He's kept it as a good luck charm ever since. "Our astronauts and their descendants are not permitted to have an Apollo 11-era moon rock to sell for their own enrichment and neither should a private citizen who acquired one in a less-noble manner," Gutheinz said. An Alaskan judge will now decide who legally owns the rock.
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Court to Decide If Man Can Keep His Moon Rock

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  • Good call (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Monday July 11, 2011 @12:37PM (#36723256)

    Maybe he should have let the thing go on in the trash, then where would your precious little moon rock be? But that's what you get for trying, sued

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      But that's what you get for trying, sued

      So that's why after he rescued it he immediately returned it to the relevant interested parties rather than keeping it for himself? Oh wait...

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        and bragged about it to everyone he could find.

      • If this guy can't keep something that was thrown in the trash, then law enforcement shouldn't be able to search through our trash for evidence. Oh, that sword cuts both ways? Oops.
    • by jbengt (874751)
      While I agree that Anderson should be commended for saving the moon rock, according to TFA he wasn't sued, rather he is the one that initiated the suit. Still, it may not be a clear cut case, as putting something in the trash doesn't mean it belongs to someone who takes it out of the trash. (IANAL, YMMV)
    • He didn't take it out of the trash. His dad was the curator for the museum. His dad likely stole the rocks after the fire.
  • by Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) on Monday July 11, 2011 @12:41PM (#36723332)
    I would like to cite the case of 'Finders vs Keepers'
  • by sheehaje (240093) on Monday July 11, 2011 @12:42PM (#36723338)

    "Our astronauts and their descendants are not permitted to have an Apollo 11-era moon rock to sell for their own enrichment and neither should a private citizen who acquired one in a less-noble manner,"

    The way I see it, the guy saved it from being buried in some landfill somewhere. I'm sure none of that matters to the courts, but I can't see trying to slander the guy for wanting to keep what he found. Also, it doesn't sound like he's trying to cash in on it (at least not yet), but is rather fond of his "good luck charm".

    • by SEWilco (27983) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:01PM (#36723688) Journal
      The State of Alaska seems to agree that stuff in the trash is abandoned property (PDF) [alaska.gov].
      • I do not believe any party to the suit is willing to admit that the moonrock was intentionally placed in a trash receptacle outside the building and curtilage of the museum and, thereby, abandoned.

        And, even if that were the case, that does not mean that a finder has right to title if the object is found. If, as I believe the feds are claiming, the rocks don't actually belong to the museum but to the US government, then it doesn't matter if the museum did abandon the rocks.

        That said, it's apparent that the g

        • by rwade (131726)

          That said, it's apparent that the government is being an asshat about the situation. What they should have done is graciously thanked Anderson for saving the rocks, offered to generously reimburse him for his time as steward of the rocks...

          The government is not a typical business that can do the obvious thing of paying someone off to avoid the hassle of legal battles, particularly when the issue is something that is literally priceless.

          First of all, who decides how much this is worth? In other words, how can the government ensure that it's taxpayers will be satisfied that is hasn't overpaid for this rock?

      • by jbengt (874751)
        According to the .pdf you linked to, it depends on where the trash was at the time. It might belong to the trash collecting company, the owner of the property, or it might be considered abandoned. Also, much of that .pdf dealt with the expectation of the right of privacy (or lack thereof) which does not imply ownership (or lack thereof).
  • wow what a shame (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digitalsushi (137809) <slashdot@digitalsushi.com> on Monday July 11, 2011 @12:48PM (#36723446) Journal

    we should just go get a bunch more rocks so that they are not valuable. it's a damned rock. but since we're apparently stuck on this one forever, they are worth more than gold.

    did you people know the top of the washington monument is made of aluminium? cause that used to be precious too.

    let the dude keep his pebble. lets be noble and go back to the moon. we used to be good at it.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Until half the moon is moon rocks on Earth, they'll be valuable.

      And the principle is about not owning anything gained from space exploration. It's international in scope, and is a big deal, because if you can own a rock, you can claim the moon for your country, and that's going to cause space wars.

    • Re:wow what a shame (Score:4, Informative)

      by dgatwood (11270) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:25PM (#36724078) Journal

      Actually, it had nothing to do with aluminum being precious, but rather that most metal manufacturing (until the advent of CNC milling in the 1950s) was done by casting, and pure aluminum doesn't cast well.

      It was also a relatively expensive material because the technology to cheaply extract aluminum from aluminum oxide was still in its infancy (the modern Hall-Héroult process having not been invented until two years later, in 1886, with the previous technologies being either extremely expensive, difficult to use in large quantities, or both), but this was in large part due to lack of demand, which was in large part due to the fact that it was historically difficult to cast pure aluminum precisely and get yields comparable to that of other metals or aluminum alloys.

      See The Point of a Monument: A History of the Aluminum Cap of the Washington Monument [tms.org] for details.

      Still, the point remains that its cost was largely due to its novelty.

  • by jzarling (600712) on Monday July 11, 2011 @12:51PM (#36723504)
    Coleman -
    Give it back - sure you saved it and restored the plaque, but its a moon rock it belongs to the public.

    State of Alaska -
    Thank him for safe keeping a state treasure,
    Display the Rock in a museum, and include the message of thanks to Coleman for keeping what you thought was junk, but was also historically valuable.
    make sure you never loose this thing again.

    All sides drop all lawsuits.

    Everyone move on.
    • by Evtim (1022085) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:06PM (#36723776)

      I say, give the man custody over the rock for the duration of his life if it is his "lucky charm". Make sure that all hell rains on him if he tries to profit. Include proper clause in his will. Collect after his death. If he dies in a manner that makes the rock non-retrievable (say a boat sinks with him on board), write it off as an act of God and write an article in Nature that moon rocks are not so lucky after all...

      • by vlm (69642)

        I say, give the man custody over the rock for the duration of his life if it is his "lucky charm".

        Legally safer to do the opposite, the state owns it and the state is legally forced to rent it to him until his death for $1.

        Otherwise when he dies or goes bankrupt, the ownership gets kind of tricky. Also if he refuses to insure it, the state can take it back.

        See, for example, how hackerspaces encourage people to maintain ownership while leasing machines to the hackerspace. That way if the hackerspace goes bankrupt, the equipment owners get their machines back (at least in theory)

      • by Synn (6288)

        Actually, that's a pretty good compromise.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      No, the law, if morale, should prevail. Not a feel good situation.

      If it states he should keep the rock, then so be it.

  • by KPexEA (1030982) on Monday July 11, 2011 @12:51PM (#36723520)
    The best compromise is when both parties are not happy with the result.
  • by v1 (525388) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:00PM (#36723672) Homepage Journal

    It's a chain-of-ownership issue here. If NASA loaned the rock to the museum for display, and they accidentally tossed it out, NASA still owns it, all the way to the dump and beyond. Just because you lose track of something doesn't mean you don't own it anymore. You have to give it away, sell it, transfer it, abandon it, or have it confiscated, to lose ownership over it. Valuable things are rarely donated to museums, they are more often put on exhibit on a temporary or permanent basis.

    Right now that's looking like the case. But further details could emerge. Maybe NASA gave them 11 rocks along with other stuff, and asked for "all 10 rocks back and you can dispose of the rest of the exhibit", which would transfer ownership of rock #11 to the museum, which threw it out (abandoned it) and then in the trash pile it does become finders-keepers.

    • by pavon (30274)

      NASA didn't loan it. President Nixon gave it to the state governor who had it placed in a museum. Many other governors who received them just displayed it in their office. At that time no one thought these would be the last rocks to be brought back from the moon for generations to come.

      • by v1 (525388)

        NASA didn't loan it. President Nixon gave it to the state governor who had it placed in a museum.

        Thanks for the additional information. So ownership transferred from NASA to the governor. Now, did he donate it to the museum, or loan it? Given the context, it sounds like he gave it. Therefor the museum acquired ownership of the rock. Then if they threw it away, it is finders-keepers now.

    • It's a chain-of-ownership issue here. If NASA loaned the rock to the museum for display, and they accidentally tossed it out, NASA still owns it, all the way to the dump and beyond. Just because you lose track of something doesn't mean you don't own it anymore. You have to give it away, sell it, transfer it, abandon it, or have it confiscated, to lose ownership over it. Valuable things are rarely donated to museums, they are more often put on exhibit on a temporary or permanent basis.

      My understanding is stolen property is returned to the original owner where possible. It doesn't matter if it was sold 2 or 3 times down the line already, if that car was stolen from someone then those poor buyers are SOL and the owner gets the car back.

      Here, it's murky. On one hand the guy saved a priceless artifact from winding up under a few metric tons of trash. NASA should be grateful for that fact alone.

      AND typically trash is the wild west... if it was left on public property (the curb) and in regu

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:02PM (#36723690)

    If you've ever watch the crab captains on Deadliest Catch, you would know that there never existed in the universe a more greedy, money-obsessed group of cold sonofabitches than those guys. They LOVE money. They don't hesitate to risk the lives of their own families for money. They think about money from the second they get up to the moment they go to bed.

    If this guy was a crab captain, you can bet that he's holding out for more money. All that sentimental value crap is just his way of bargaining. I guarantee you that the only thing that has stopped him from selling it before was his questionable title to it. If he wins this case, he'll be auctioning it off the next day.

    • by OzPeter (195038)

      If you've ever watch the crab captains on Deadliest Catch, you would know that there never existed in the universe a more greedy, money-obsessed group of cold sonofabitches than those guys

      You do know that its just a TV show don't you? That is edited by other people in order to create drama that is intended to get people to watch the adverts so that the advertisers can make money? You do know that don't you?

      In general TV is not about truth, it is about being a vehicle that places Ads in front of eyeballs. You just have to follow the money and see who pays who.

  • "Our astronauts and their descendants are not permitted to have an Apollo 11-era moon rock to sell for their own enrichment and neither should a private citizen who acquired one in a less-noble manner," Gutheinz said.

    In what way is it relevant what NASA chose to give to the astronauts? If NASA didn't give a rock to astronauts, does that also mean that NASA shouldn't keep any of the rocks? Does NASA own the rocks which it gave away to governors and other countries? If it was NASA's rock, what did it do

  • Offer him FMV... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HogGeek (456673) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:21PM (#36724020)

    According to the TFA, the item was "presented to the state of Alaska in 1969 by President Nixon".

    If the museum was run by the state, then they tossed it, and he owns it...

  • There are probably many moon rocks on earth other than the ones brought back by project Apollo. Just as meteor strikes on Mars sent rocks on a collision course with earth, so did meteor strikes on the moon. The hard part would be in proving that a particular rock came from the moon.

  • Joe Gutheinz, a former senior investigator for NASA's Office of Inspector General, has made it his goal to collect all 230 moon rocks presented by the US to governments around the world, and put them in a museum.

    Seriously, what's the difference if the museum contains 229 or 230 moon rocks? It sounds like without this guy, the rock would have been lost forever. Really, who is going to be harmed by allowing him to keep the thing?

  • by gfxguy (98788) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:36PM (#36724246)

    On the matter of legality, the claim is that the museum staff "meticulously" searched through the debris, salvaging what they deemed valuable, before calling the trash removal company to haul the rest away. Anderson did not dumpster dive to get this, but he did pick it from among the remaining debris.

    As far as the rock being a "loaner," I respectfully disagree... it was presented to the museum by President Nixon; many museums display loaned items, either from private collections or as part of an arrangement with other museums, but that doesn't mean they don't "own" any of the items on display, if something is "presented" to them, then one would think they own it. After the fire, they chose not to salvage it.

    Let's let the courts decide the legality... it seems like there's a lot of gray area we may not be privy to right now.

    On the matter of ethics, or should he return it, I say... no. Why should he? There's over 200 of them, many of them "recovered." So what are they going to do with them? Lock them away? Put them in more museums? They got 70 of them back... isn't that enough for whatever they want to do? It seems like sour grapes to say "well, X can't have one, so why should Y," when it makes little difference in the end to X or anyone else that Y has one.

    It would be cool if Anderson would "lend" it to a museum, so other people can see it, too, but I don't see why legal or "moral" ownership requires a prerequisite that others should be able to own the same thing.

    • by brokeninside (34168) on Monday July 11, 2011 @02:40PM (#36725350)

      The state's side of the story:

      Guthienz and Riker weren't the only ones searching for Alaska's moon rocks. Alaska State Museum curator Steve Henrikson had been looking for them on and off since he was hired 21 years ago in Juneau. The story he pieced together didn't match Anderson's.

      The last people to see the plaque, Henrikson said, were two museum employees who walked through the building after the fire. According to them, the moon rocks were intact, in a glass case. After that, museum staff discussed taking the plaque out of the burned-out area and putting it in a more secure part of the museum.

      A few days later, a museum employee noticed it wasn't in the case. Instead there was just a clean square in the ash and dust where it had been sitting. She assumed Phil Redden, a museum curator, took it home for safe-keeping. But later, when he was asked, Redden denied it.

      Shortly after the fire, the museum lost its funding and all the employees were let go, Henrikson said. That left the cleanup and inventory of the artifacts to employees in Juneau. It took them three years to go through everything. They kept expecting to find the moon rock plaque but they never did, Henrikson said.

      From Alaska News Daily [adn.com].

  • So, NASA hands out all these presents, and later they change their mind and want them all back. I think people would be better off refusing it.

    And maybe if they spent more time getting people up into space and less on chasing down moon rocks, we'd soon get fresh moon rocks from the source.

  • "In 1973," Harris wrote in the lawsuit, "the plaque was widely considered not to have any real monetary value because it was assumed moon trips would soon become a nearly everyday occurrence."

    What happened in the past 40 years or so? I am just barely old enough to remember Challenger, but it seems like throughout my life space exploration has stagnated if not outright declined.

    Now I understand that from a scientific point of view sending probes to Mars and beyond is cheap, safe (unless you mix up your feet

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