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Thieves Stole a Solid-Gold Replica of Neil Armstrong's Lunar Module

Cartier made the 18-karat model back in 1969 as a gift to the first man to walk on the moon.

by Drew Schwartz
Jul 31 2017, 3:47pm

Photo of Michael Collins' replica lander by Flickr user Paul McCarthy

A hyper-rare gold replica of the lunar module that brought Neil Armstrong to the moon has been stolen from the astronaut's namesake museum in Ohio, NPR reports.

According to police in Wapakoneta, Ohio, thieves snuck into the city's Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum just before midnight on Friday, setting off a burglar alarm. When the cops arrived, they discovered someone had broken in and made off with the solid-gold, 18-karat model.

Armstrong received the replica as a gift in Paris in 1969, a few months after his trip to the Moon. A local newspaper called Le Figaro commissioned Cartier to make three of the 5-inch tall, 4.5-inch wide models of NASA's Lunar Excursion Module—the landing vehicle from which Armstrong took his "giant leap for mankind." The paper gifted the models to all three astronauts aboard the mission—Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—and Cartier hasn't made another one since, according to the jeweler's website.

Since opening in 1972, the museum has been home to a slew of Armstrong memorabilia, including the Gemini VIII spacecraft he piloted back in 1966, two of his spacesuits, and a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission. Although that little moon chunk could've been a lucrative steal, the solid-gold replica might be easier to sell off. Thieves could prospectively melt it down into smaller, nondescript chunks, and sell them off individually.

"This piece is very rare," the police wrote in a statement. "A value of such an item cannot be determined."

We do have a rough gauge of how much the yellow and white gold replica might be worth, though. At a 2003 auction, Cartier bought the model it made for Collins back for $56,000, according to Barron's. Still—considering a bag of moon dust Armstrong used to collect lunar samples sold for $1.8 million earlier this month—it could be worth much more.

The Wapakoneta Police Department, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the FBI are currently investigating the heist, and haven't named any suspects. The museum closed its doors Saturday afternoon—police said the scene was "still being processed" at the time—but reopened to visitors on Sunday.

"The truth is that you can't steal from a museum," the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum wrote on Facebook Saturday. "Museums care for and exhibit items on behalf of you, the public. Theft from a museum is a theft from all of us."

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