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Neil Armstrong's gold Apollo lunar module stolen from Ohio museum

July 29, 2017

— A gold model of an Apollo lunar module gifted to Neil Armstrong shortly after the first moon landing in 1969 has been stolen from the Ohio museum that bears the astronaut's name.

Police responded to a burglary alarm at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, shortly before midnight on Friday (July 28), where the 18 karat gold, five-inch-high (13 centimeter) miniature lunar lander was found missing.

"Entry to the museum was discovered and taken was a solid gold replica of the 1969 Lunar Excursion Module that landed on the moon," Russel Hunlock, Wapakoneta police chief, stated in a release. "The piece is very rare as it was presented to Neil Armstrong in Paris, France shortly after the moon landing."

Update for July 31: In addition to the lunar module, award medals/ribbons and presentation coins that were in the same display case as the gold model are also missing, according to the Wapakoneta Police Department.

The gold lunar module was one of just three crafted by the jeweler Cartier and presented by the readers of the French newspaper Le Figaro to Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during their post-flight visit to Paris in October 1969. The models replicated many of the details on Eagle, the lunar module that Armstrong and Aldrin flew to a landing on July 20, 1969.

The intricate models were gifted to the three astronauts in red leather pyramid cases and were inscribed on the lower or descent stage of the lunar module with their name and "Les lecteurs du journal Le Figaro" (in English, "Readers of the newspaper Le Figaro"). Each model also had a hidden microfilm roll secreted under the descent stage engine with the names of the newspaper's subscribers and supporters who underwrote the presentation of the three replicas.

In 2003, the gold model presented to Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins was auctioned for more than $50,000. It was either then or later reacquired by Cartier, which has publicly displayed the model in the years since at the American Museum of Natural History, The Forbes Galleries and in its own boutique in New York.

Hunlock stated the value of Armstrong's model "cannot be determined."

The Wapakoneta Police Department is being assisted in the case by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI. As of Saturday morning, the "scene was still being processed," according to Hunlock.

The Armstrong Air and Space Museum remained closed to visitors on Saturday morning, according to the institution's Facebook page.

"Theft from a museum is a theft from all of us," museum officials stated. "Three hundred people driving from across the country were robbed of their opportunity to experience the museum today. For every day that an item is missing, we are all robbed of an opportunity to enjoy it."

The Armstrong museum is located in Wapakoneta, where its namesake was born. Opened in July 1972, the museum today displays the Gemini 8 spacecraft that Armstrong and crew mate David Scott flew in 1966, as well as spacesuits worn by Armstrong in flight and training, on loan from the Smithsonian.

Armstrong, who died in 2012, was not associated with the museum's founding, but helped where he could.

"I did try to support them," Armstrong told historian James Hansen for "First Man," his 2005 biography, "by presenting them with such materials as I had available, either gifting or loaning items."

"The truth is that you can't steal from a museum," officials at the Armstrong museum wrote on Facebook. "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."

The Wapakoneta Police Department is asking anyone with information about the lunar module model's theft to contact its office at 419-738-8802.


A rare gold lunar module model presented to Neil Armstrong was stolen from the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio on Friday, July 28, 2017. (Wapakoneta Police Department)

One of three 18 karat gold Apollo lunar module models crafted by Cartier and presented to the Apollo 11 astronauts. (Cartier)

The Armstrong Air and Space Museum was opened in July 1972 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. (Armstrong Air and Space Museum)

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong's Cartier 18 karat gold Apollo lunar module model, as gifted to him in Paris. (Armstrong Air and Space Museum)

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