Oklahoma author awarded ownership of microfilm lunar Bibles

By JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS Features Associated Press

A Texas state agency has withdrawn its ownership claim to 10 microfilm Bibles that Apollo astronauts took into space, ceding them to an author who says they were left to her by a NASA chaplain who helped send the tiny books into the heavens, court records show.

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The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services dropped its claim to the so-called first lunar Bibles last week, ahead of a Wednesday hearing that would have decided who got to keep the valuable books. Judge Linda G. Morrissey ordered the artifacts turned over to Tulsa author and businesswoman Carol Mersch in a court document filed Friday.

The postage stamp-sized Bibles, including eight that made it onto the surface of the moon inside a pouch carried by astronaut Edgar Mitchell during NASA's 1971 Apollo 14 mission, had been locked away in the Tulsa courthouse while the legal fight dragged into its sixth year.

Mersch said Tuesday that she is relieved and that she plans to pick up the Bibles on Wednesday.

"Having your civil liberties restored after a protracted legal battle that never should have begun in the first place is hardly a victory," Mersch said. "It's like being happy that someone stopped finally beating you."

A spokeswoman for the Texas agency declined to comment on the case Tuesday.

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Shooting the scriptures into space was the brainchild of the Apollo Prayer League, co-founded by the late NASA chaplain John M. Stout to pray for the success of the space program.

Mersch befriended Stout in 2009 while working on a book about the prayer group and efforts to land a Bible on the moon, and said the late chaplain gave her the Bibles while she wrote it.

But Texas attorneys argued that Stout's son, Jonathan Stout, should inherit the Bibles. They said Stout and his wife became wards of the state in their later years after their son raised concerns about their deteriorating mental and physical well-being.

Jonathan Stout didn't reply to a Tuesday phone message seeking comment.

Mersch vowed if she won, she would donate some of the Bibles to museums or seminaries around the world, per the chaplain's wishes.

"I believe Carol is the best person to have control of these and have possession of them to decide where they should best go," said Cathy Anello, the niece of legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Anello said she was prepared to attend Wednesday's hearing to lend the family name to Carol's cause.

"She will get (the Bibles) to places where they can be observed and honored," Anello said.