NASA reeling after Neil Armstrong moon sample bag sold for $1.5m

21 Jul 2017

Buzz Aldrin photographed by Neil Armstrong as they explore the moon. Image: NASA

Despite NASA’s attempts to claim it, a woman who bought a lunar sample bag used by Neil Armstrong has sold it for $1.5m.

NASA is left reeling after one of the most important pieces of space memorabilia it miscategorised has been sold at Sotheby’s for $1.5m ($1.8m including the auction house’s fee).

On the 49th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, a space exploration auction was held, which included some of NASA’s most treasured possessions.

Future Human

While the space agency’s policy is to keep any historically important artefacts from its missions, the lunar sample bag used by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission fell through the cracks.

The bag, which is in excellent condition, looks similar to any cloth bag, but stitched on the side are the words ‘lunar sample return’.

Lost for decades

Delving into its history last May, The Kansas City Star revealed that after its misidentification, the bag wound up in the garage of Max Ary, the former director of the Cosmosphere space museum in the town of Hutchinson, Kansas.

Inventory keeping was less than precise and, at some point between the 1970s and 1980s, the Smithsonian museum sent the lunar sample bag along with other items to Cosmosphere, which then sat in a stockroom.

Ary began selling these items, including some that were technically NASA’s property, prompting the US government to seize the artefacts before selling them on. This included the lunar bag, which was not identified as being from a particular mission.

Battle for ownership

The bag was put up for an online auction at a suggested bid of $20,000, and sold to a woman named Nancy Carlson for just $995 after no one showed much interest, making her a cool profit margin of 1,500pc.

She took the bag to NASA to confirm if lunar samples were in it, which is when the space agency realised the enormity of its mistake and refused to give it back.

After a lengthy legal battle, NASA walked out of court as the loser as Carlson was named the rightful owner.

Sotheby’s said that Carlson is planning to give a portion of the $1.5m to a number of charities, while also setting up a scholarship fund for students at her former university.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic