Moon dust samples collected by Neil Armstrong during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969 will be auctioned in New York on Wednesday.
The auction item, which includes five lunar dust samples, is a rare piece of space history and could be worth up to $1.2 million, according to auction house Bonhams. auction responsible for the sale. The dust samples had a wild and controversial journey to sale and will be the only known lunar dust samples sold legally after being authenticated by NASA.
“No verified Apollo lunar sample has ever been offered for auction, so we are delighted and honored to offer it,” said Adam Stackhouse, specialist at Bonhams overseeing its Space History sale.
The particles for sale sit in a blue plastic container on five aluminum discs, each topped with a small piece of carbon tape that was used to collect moon dust from a collection bag. On July 21, 1969, after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human to set foot on the moon, Armstrong collected a small “emergency sample” of lunar dust before carrying out the rest of his scheduled activities on the moon. lunar surface, according to NASA protocols. The idea was that if the mission had to be aborted for some reason, Armstrong and Aldrin could return to Earth with the emergency sample in tow.
When the Apollo 11 mission ended, the bag — largely empty but still speckled with particles of lunar matter — was loaned to a space museum in Kansas, according to NASA. It was later seized by the United States Marshals Service after Max Ary, the director of what was then known as the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, was convicted in 2005 of stealing and selling artifacts belonging to the museum and NASA.
In 2015, the US Marshals Service sold the bag at an auction, where it was purchased along with several other space artifacts for $995 by an Illinois lawyer and geology enthusiast named Nancy Lee Carlson.
Carlson sent the collection bag to NASA the same year to authenticate its origin. The space agency verified that the artifact was real and claimed it belonged to the government, refusing to return it.
Carlson sued NASA, and in 2016 a federal district judge ruled that the bag shouldn’t have been auctioned, but that Carlson had in fact purchased it legally.
Carlson sold the bag in 2017 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for $1.8 million. Now Carlson is looking to sell the lunar dust samples that were collected in the bag during NASA testing.
Stackhouse said the sale sparked interest because of its ties to a defining moment in history and because of its unusual backstory.
“It was a real journey from the time it was collected in 1969 until it arrived at our premises,” he said.
Stackhouse added that Bonhams had not heard from NASA officials and said the space agency had no legal right to stop the sale. NASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In addition to moon dust samples, Bonhams Space History Sale includes a fragment of Sputnik-1, which was launched into space in 1957 by the Soviet Union and became the first artificial satellite in Earth orbit. The recovered rocket part is valued at between $80,000 and $120,000, according to Bonhams.
Other artifacts up for auction include a model of the first American-made satellite to orbit Earth, valued at $40,000-60,000, and a map of the moon signed by 15 Apollo astronauts, the former President Richard Nixon and Wernher Von Braun, the famous architect of the American space program. The card is estimated between $20,000 and $30,000, according to Bonhams.