The Apollo 11 mission, part of NASA’s Apollo Program, landed humans on the Moon for the first time. The astronauts carried the first geological samples from the Moon back to Earth. And now, a minuscule amount of moon dust collected during the mission has sold for over half a million US dollars after NASA identified the particles as part of the first lunar sample collected by astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Although the five samples of the verified moon dust from the Apollo 11 mission sold for $504,375 on Wednesday, it was far below the pre-auction estimate between $800,000 and $1.2 million according to the auction house Bonhams.
This sale marks end of a very complicated history for the moon dust since it arrived on Earth. NASA previously argued that the moon dust collected during the Apollo mission was government property. However, the agency loaned it to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas from where at some point the dust disappeared.
However, few years later when Max Ary, the Cosmophere space museum’s director, left in 2002, several items were missing. Investigation that followed revealed that Ary had sold several museum artifacts. Over a decade later, the lunar sample bag was found during a federal search of Ary’s property. In an attempt to help pay off Ary’s $132,374 fine, the U.S. Marshals Service sold it in an online auction alongside other items from Ary’s space collection.
Nancy Lee Carslon, of Inverness, Ill., bought it for $995 in the auction, and sent it to NASA to confirm its authenticity, but after the federal space agency did so, it refused to give it back. Carlson then sued NASA to return it to her, and a judge ruled in her favor in 2016, saying she had purchased it fairly and ordered NASA to give it back.
In 2019, Carlson sued NASA again for damaging the bag during inspection and holding onto some of the dust, which eventually resulted in a settlement where NASA returned five samples. Those were the samples auctioned off for $504,375 on Wednesday.