Moon dust that astronaut Neil Armstrong collected during 1969’s Apollo 11 mission that was man’s first visit to the moon could sell for a seven-figure sum at auction in April – years after the space agency fought in court to keep the dust out of private hands.
Armstrong collected the dust as a contingency sample shortly after he took his first steps on the lunar surface and uttered his now-famous line, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” auction house Bonhams said.
The dust is expected to sell for between $800,000 and $1.2 million, according to Bonhams.
The lunar bag that contained it – and included only particles of lunar material left in the bag – was auctioned off in 2017 for $1.8 million.
A portion of the proceeds will go toward scientific charities, Bonham’s said.
The lunar dust will be sold April 13 as part of a space-themed auction that also includes a fragment of Sputnik 1, the first space satellite ever launched.
NASA has confirmed the authenticity of the lunar dust up for auction, but the space agency never meant for the sample to end up in private hands. The dust’s seller, Nancy Lee Carlson, purchased what was labeled only as a “flown zippered lunar sample return bag with lunar dust” for $995 in 2015 at a U.S. Marshal’s auction. When Carlson sent the bag to NASA to learn more, the space agency realized it had Apollo 11 ties and refused to return it, saying the bag belonged to “the American people” and should be put on public display. It’s unclear when NASA lost track of the bag of dust but by 2002, it was in the possession of Max Ary, a space museum co-founder in Kansas who was convicted of selling stolen artifacts. The lunar bag was compounded in 2003 and later put up for sale for restitution at the auction where Carlson purchased it. Carlson sued NASA for wrongful seizure of property, and in 2016 Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in her favor, writing that Carlson was a “a good faith purchaser” in a legally conducted sale.
“The surface is fine and powdery, I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles,” Armstrong said in 1969, describing lunar dust as he walked on the moon.
$2.9 million. That’s how much a Soviet-era space capsule sold at auction for in 2011, a price that remains the record for space exploration memorabilia. The capsule was used in unmanned tests leading up to the launch of Vostok I, the world’s first spaceship, which took cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961.
The private space ventures of wealthy businessmen like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – dubbed the “Billionaire Space Race” – has “stirred up the market” for space material, Bonham specialist Adam Stackhouse told Forbes. Space memorabilia and extraterrestrial materials like meteorites have picked up in popularity over the past few years. In 2017, NASA announced the launch of the Artemis program, which aims to send another crewed mission to the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Nancy Lee Carlson Bought a Piece of the Moon—NASA Really Wants It Back (Wall Street Journal)
Apollo 11’s 50th Anniversary: The Facts And Figures Behind The $152 Billion Moon Landing (Forbes)