The lunar bag that accompanied Neil Armstrong on his iconic mission to the moon in 1969 sold at auction for US$1.8 million (S$2.4 million). Still laced with traces of moon dust, the bag passed from owner to owner in the past several years before its last sale brought on a legal scuffle between NASA and a woman named Nancy Carlson.
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Carlson, a Chicago-based attorney, bought the moon bag for US$995 (S$1350) off a Marshals Service auction site. Suspecting that the bag was part of a historical space mission, she sent the bag to NASA to confirm its authenticity. With tests confirming that the bag was indeed the very same one that Armstrong used to transport the first samples of moon dust from Apollo 11 back to Earth, NASA promptly kept the bag. Carlson successfully sued NASA for the rightful ownership of the bag, with the judge honouring her purchase.
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According to the New York Times, the recent auction is not without an unfortunate mix-up in 2003. Thanks to a mislabelling of the bag, which was reportedly found in the garage of Max Ary, later convicted of stealing artifacts from a Kansas museum where he worked, its historical significance was left unknown. The moon bag was later sold unsuccessfully at several auctions, until Carlson’s purchase. After a U.S. District judge ordered the agency to return the bag to Carlson, NASA released a statement expressing regret that the bag was an artifact of the “American people and should be on display for the public” and was “never meant to be owned by an individual”.
“Nearly all of the equipment from that historic mission is housed in the US National Collection at the Smithsonian,” reads a category note by Sotheby’s. “This is the only artifact available for private ownership.”
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