Apollo 11 Moon dust will go on auction next month, against NASA's wishes

The dust is expected to sell for between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
Chris Young
Buzz Aldrin on the MoonNASA

Ever wanted to own a piece of the Moon?

Fine art auctioneers Bonhams will auction Moon dust collected by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission next month on April 13, a report from Yahoo News reveals. 

Anyone wanting to get their hands on the historic space dust will likely face strong competition at auction, and the item might go for as much as $1.2 million.

In a social media post, Bonhams explains that the lunar dust is "the only example of verified Apollo 11 Moon dust that can be legally sold."

NASA argues Neil Armstrong's dust sample belongs to "the American people" 

While everything does seem to be above board for the upcoming sale, the auctioneer fails to mention the lunar dust's chequered legal history. As Forbes points out, NASA isn't aware when it lost track of the bag, but in 2002, it was in the possession of a space museum co-founder in Kansas called Max Ary, who was convicted of selling stolen artifacts. The bag of lunar dust was then compounded and put up for sale for restitution in 2015 where it was bought by its current owner, Nancy Lee Carlson, for only $995.

When Carlson later sent the bag to NASA for verification, the U.S. space agency refused to return it, saying the bag belonged to "the American people" and should be displayed in a public musem. In 2016, Carlson sued NASA for wrongful seizure of property, and won her court battle, with Judge J. Thomas Marten ruling that Carlson was a "good faith purchaser" when she bought the lunar dust pouch at a legal auction.

The Moon dust was collected as a contingency sample by Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 when he became the first person to walk on the Moon. Bonhams also explains that its Space History auction contains a "curated selection of highlights from the Space Race, from the launch of Sputnik-1 to the "dress rehearsal for the Moon" Apollo 10 and, of course, Apollo 11.⁠"

Moon samples help NASA prepare for the Artemis Moon landings

Most dust samples collected on the Moon are kept under lock and key at NASA's headquarters, some of them remaining in sealed vacuum containers for decades before being opened. Earlier this month, for example, NASA opened a 50-year-old lunar sample collected by Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan in 1972 as part of its preparations for the upcoming Artemis Moon landings.

Around the time that Apollo 17 sample was collected, scientists designed devices to keep lunar samples vacuum sealed for decades so that future generations of scientists could apply their technology and shed new insight into the lunar soil.

While there certainly isn't a shortage of lunar dust samples for scientists to analyze, NASA will be wondering how exactly it managed to lose track of such an iconic artifact. Carlson may have gotten her hands on Armstrong's lunar dust pouch through legal means, but it's hard to argue that such a valuable piece of space history shouldn't be on public display for all to see.

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