A legal fight over who owns hundreds of tiny Bibles that landed on the moon is the subject of the 100th episode of the FOX Business Network series Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby.
The episode airs Monday, March 26, at 9:30 p.m. ET. It will re-air on Wednesday and Good Friday.
It tells the story of John Stout, who as a young science whiz earned multiple degrees from Texas A&M, while also being ordained a minister. He was doing missionary work in Brazil in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite. Stout manually calculated exactly where and when Sputnik would pass overhead, and photographed the spacecraft.
Stout’s pictures made news and got him a job at the newly-formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA – in Houston.
“Reverend Stout was a man of cloth, but he was also a man of science,” space historian Robert Pearlman tells Colby. “His official role at NASA was as senior information scientist. But he was also a chaplain and fulfilling a spiritual role.”
After Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969, Stout thrust himself into another mission – landing a Bible on the lunar surface and returning it safely back to Earth.
Every ounce matters on a moon launch, so Stout ordered hundreds of King James Bibles printed on microfilm. Each 1,245-page book fit on a piece of plastic about the size of a postage stamp.
Stout finally saw his mission accomplished in 1971. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell carried 300 of Stout’s tiny Bibles to the Moon, and gave them back to the Reverend after splashdown.
“Even today I don’t think the public at large is aware that a Bible went to the moon,” says Pearlman.
Stout gave some of the Bibles away. Among the recipients were then-Congressman George H. W. Bush, Vice President Spiro Agnew and entertainer Bob Hope.
“I know that the families of the Apollo 1 astronauts, who perished on the launch pad, got Bibles too,” says Jonathan Stout, the Reverend’s only child. “My dad made sure each received one.”
Reverend Stout left NASA in 1972, and after working elsewhere in the government, moved back to Texas to retire. By the early 2000’s he started slipping into dementia, but spurned an offer to move in with his son. A court ultimately declared him incompetent and ordered him into a state nursing home, where he died in 2016.
Jonathan Stout assumed the hundreds of Bibles still in his dad’s possession would immediately pass to him. That would be an inheritance potentially worth millions, as some of the other Bibles have sold for up to $75,000 apiece, according to Pearlman.
Instead, Stout inherited a legal battle.
He’s fighting Carol Mersch, an author who tells Colby that she befriended Reverend Stout in 2009 when he was 87, and wrote a book about the lunar Bibles. Mersch claims that they really belong to her. On what grounds?
“That’s a subject that is complicated and up for review by the courts now,” she tells Colby in the program.
Complicated indeed. According to court records and public accounts, Mersch has argued, alternatively, that Stout gave her 14 of the Bibles as a gift, and also that the Bibles actually belonged to a small church with which Stout was once affiliated. That church has assigned to Mersch the rights that it asserts to the lunar Bibles.
A Texas court dismissed Mersch’s claims, but she is appealing.
Who will ultimately get the Bibles, Heaven only knows.