Shortly after the first moon landing in July of 1969, Apollo 11 crewmembers Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins went on a goodwill tour around the world, instant celebrities due to their amazing achievement. On their stop in Paris, France, they were given a unique collectible: a replica of the LM, or lunar module.
Now one of these pieces has been stolen from the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Ohio.
Police in the northwest Ohio town of Wapakoneta discovered that the LM replica was missing after an alarm sounded at the museum Friday night. Both the FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation are currently involved in the investigation. Former NASA federal agent Joseph Gutheinz Jr. said that he believes that the thief stole the replica with the intention of melting it down and selling the gold. This is because there was a moon rock in the museum's collection that is much more valuable than the LM replica, but the rock was not targeted during the theft.
"Either they didn't have easy access to the moon rock or they weren't into collectibles," Gutheinz told CBS News. "They were into turning a quick buck."
These three replicas are the only ones in existence. They stand around 5 inches tall and were constructed of 18 karat gold. French newspaper Le Figaro commissioned the replicas from Cartier. CollectSpace reports that Michael Collins' replica was sold at auction for over $50,000 in 2003, after which point Cartier acquired it. The jeweler has publicly displayed the replica multiple times since then. Buzz Aldrin's replica is presumably still in his personal collection.
The museum reopened on Saturday with a statement on their Facebook page: "The truth is that you can't steal from a museum. Museums don't 'own' artifacts. We are simply vessels of the public trust. Museums care for and exhibit items on behalf of you, the public. Theft from a museum is a theft from all of us." The Wapakoneta Police Department is asking anyone with leads on the theft to contact them immediately.