NASA Loses Legal Battle: Moon Dust Collected by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 Going Up for Auction

by Shelby Scott

In an interesting turn of events, NASA has lost its legal battle for possession of the moon dust Neil Armstrong collected during the Apollo 11 mission of 1969. Now, the lunar dust will go up for private auction next month, where experts expect it to sell for as much as $1.2 million.

At a Glance:

  • NASA never intended for Armstrong’s moon dust sample to wind up in private hands.
  • Nancy Lee Carlson purchased it, but was seized by NASA in 2015. It’s unclear when NASA lost track of the lunar dust sample.
  • Carlson reclaimed the lunar dust in 2016 after a judge ruled the sale and purchase were conducted legally.

Apollo 11 Moon Dust to Conclude Long Journey

As per the outlet, it’s uncertain as to when NASA lost track of the precious space artifact. However, its long journey began near the turn of the century. By 2002, the bag of lunar dust was in the possession of Max Ary, a space museum co-founder in Kansas. Authorities eventually convicted Ary of selling stolen artifacts.

By 2003, the outlet reports the bag was compounded, and later put up for sale where Nancy Lee Carlson purchased it at a 2015 U.S. Marshal’s auction. Then, she spent $995 on the bag.

The lucky auction winner didn’t get to possess her winnings for long though. Soon after claiming the moon dust, she sent it to NASA to learn more. However, when the national space agency learned of its direct connection to the Apollo 11 mission, they kept it. NASA reasoned the bag of moon dust belonged to “the American people.”

While the moon dust hopefully finds a permanent home during the auction, it’s clearly done quite a bit of relocating over the last couple of decades.

Moon Dust to Go Up for Auction in April

According to Forbes, the moon dust collected during the NASA Apollo 11 mission of 1969 is to go up for auction on April 13th. The outlet reports the sale of the lunar dust will serve as part of a space-themed auction that also includes a fragment of Sputnik 1, the first space satellite ever launched.

After NASA claimed custody of Carlson’s bag of moon dust, the two entities entered a custody battle of sorts. While the space agency insisted on the significance of the artifact as a symbol of American ingenuity, and the importance of keeping it accessible to the masses, the argument didn’t hold.

In 2016, Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in Carlson’s favor. After suing NASA for wrongful seizure of property, the court ruled Carlson a “good faith purchaser” in a legally conducted sale.

Now, she plans to sell the lunar dust for potentially seven figures. A portion of the sale’s proceeds is to go to scientific charities.