TULSA, Okla. – Ten microfilm Bibles once launched hundreds of thousands of miles into space sit landlocked today inside an Oklahoma courthouse while a legal battle rages in two states over who is the rightful owner of the celestial keepsakes.
Eight of the 10 tiny holy books in dispute landed on the surface of the moon during NASA’s 1971 Apollo 14 mission, carried in a pouch by astronaut Edgar Mitchell. Each isn’t much larger than a postage stamp and contains all 1,245 pages of the King James Bible. Etched onto each strip of film at such a small size, its words must be viewed through a microscope, save for two: “HOLY BIBLE” at the very top of the slide.
Shooting the scriptures into the heavens was the brainchild of the Apollo Prayer League, formed in the late 1960s to pray for the success of the space program. A novel idea at the time, flying a Bible into space led to the trend of sending other souvenirs spaceward: pocket change, LEGO figurines, and even a lightsaber wielded by the “Star Wars” movies’ Luke Skywalker.
An ongoing slog in Texas and Oklahoma courts encapsulates the complexity of what to do with space relics: Connecting with the cosmos seems cool, but figuring out what to do with them can get costly and contentious back on Earth.
Co-founded by the late NASA chaplain John M. Stout, the prayer league took its mission statement from Mark 16:15 literally: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” After the Apollo 14 mission, Stout gave many of his valuable artifacts away to family or friends, squirreling away the rest in his tiny Texas apartment.
Now, these “first lunar Bibles” are stored at the Tulsa County courthouse, awaiting a May 3 hearing over who owns them — Texas or Tulsa author and businesswoman Carol Mersch, who befriended Stout in 2009 while working on a book about attempts to land a Bible on the moon. Mersch claims the late chaplain gave her the Bibles while she wrote the book, and she keeps a certificate of authenticity signed by Stout and Mitchell as proof.
But that hasn’t been good enough for Texas, whose attorneys argue that Stout and his wife became wards of the state in their twilight years after their son, Jonathan, raised concerns about his parents’ deteriorating mental and physical well-being. She died in 2014; he passed away in December.
In the view of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, as represented by the state attorney general, that means the Jonathan Stout should…