A San Diego judge has dismissed a federal suit by a Long Beach man who claimed he owns the watch worn by former astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. when he walked on the moon in 1969.
The dismissal Wednesday came after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration concluded Stephen Morley's watch is not the one Aldrin wore.
Morley, a retired sales clerk, filed the suit last year in an attempt to authenticate the watch he bought for $175 from a college student whose father found it on a Santa Barbara beach.
Collectors have long sought Aldrin's watch, the only one worn on the moon. Some call it the "holy grail" of timepieces. It disappeared in the early 1970s after Aldrin shipped it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Morley agreed to drop the suit, rather than continue fighting the government, according to court records.
Morley's lawyer claimed that, if authentic, the watch would be worth between $2 million and $4 million.
Efforts to reach Morley and his lawyer yesterday were unsuccessful.
After Morley filed suit, NASA and Aldrin insisted that if the watch was authentic, it belonged to them. NASA said the watch belonged in the Smithsonian; Aldrin said the watch was his personal property.
At the time, lawyers said it was likely Morley had the moon watch.
Aldrin and other astronauts were issued Omega Speedmaster watches during the Apollo program. Identical timepieces were sold to the public.
Aldrin wore his watch when he became the second man to step on the moon July 20, 1969. It is the only watch ever worn there.
In a book, Aldrin said he last saw the timepiece when it was packed for shipment to the Smithsonian in the early 1970s. When the package arrived at the institute, the watch was missing.
Morley bought a Speedmaster in 1991 and began suspecting it was the moon watch when he found a tiny "43" etched into its back. That was the number collectors believe was assigned to Aldrin's watch.
Yet doubts arose as the lawsuit progressed over the past year.
"After extensive investigation, including the deposition of a former NASA employee involved in the Apollo 11 program, both Aldrin and the United States concluded that the watch was not the watch Aldrin had worn and that they had no interest in the watch," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Plaxico wrote in papers asking a federal judge to dismiss the suit.
"This case is over," Plaxico said yesterday.
A few weeks ago, before Morley agreed to drop the suit, his lawyer, Richard Van Dyke, said the government's position shouldn't be the final word.
"It's becoming very difficult to conclude whether this is the watch," he said. The Smithsonian should have the documents that would authenticate the watch, but can't come up with them, he said.
"There really is no way for us to know what engravings are supposed to be on this watch," Van Dyke said. "The custody of our nation's artifacts have been entrusted to the wrong people."
Onell Soto: (619) 293-1280; email@example.com