Judge: NASA cannot confiscate an Apollo 11 artifact that was sold by mistake


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A federal judge has ruled that NASA has no right to confiscate an Apollo 11 lunar rock sample bag that had been purchased legally, even though the sale itself had been in error.

udge J. Thomas Marten ruled in the U.S. District Court for Kansas that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois, obtained the title to the historic artifact as “a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.” The government had petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the lunar sample bag to NASA. “She is entitled to possession of the bag,” Marten wrote in his order.

This court case will hopefully give some legal standing to the private owners of other artifacts or lunar samples that NASA had given away and then demanded their return, decades later.

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10 comments

  • Jim Jakoubek

    Once again here is more NASA whining.

    Granted a piece that was part of the Apollo 11 mission should be in a museum and does have historical
    value. However, one can make this same argument for more than things that flew on the early moon shots.

    For example, there are many one of a kind items in baseball history that one could argue should be
    in Cooperstown instead of private collections. Should the people that own these items surrender them
    under threat of legal action?

    What will happen I wonder once we do return to the Moon to the Apollo landing sites? The surface of
    the Moon, by treaty, belongs to all Mankind. It follows, that being the case, that anything that sits on
    that surface does as well. Is NASA going to sue everybody who visits those sites in the future if they
    decide to take those items that are there?

  • Jim Davis

    It follows, that being the case, that anything that sits on
    that surface does as well.

    Oh, no, that does not follow at all.

  • wayne

    This Judge, probably didn’t get the Memo from Central Command.
    (haven’t read the Ruling yet, but I’ll track it down later.)

    I hope this stands, but the Feds always (always) appeal; they have unlimited time, resources, and staff. And they hate to lose. (They will make you their personal-hobby with the weight of the Government behind them.)

    Don’t have a good link handy, but– look into the Case(s) of the ten, 1933 “Double Eagle” gold coins that were confiscated by the Feds not too long ago.

    The Mint produced thousands of gold double-eagles dated 1933, but FDR ordered the seizure of all gold coins & bullion from the public. The Mint melted almost all of them; one specimen was lawfully exported and given to a middle eastern dictator. It showed up 50 years later & the Feds moved to seize it. After a lengthy court battle, it was auctioned off and the Feds split the cash with the owner. (we’re talking in excess of 10 million dollars for one coin.)

    Then, about 10-15 years ago, the family of a deceased rare coin dealer [Israel “Izzy” Switt] discovered 10 specimens of the 1933 coins in storage. They foolishly sent them to the Mint for authentication, and they were hoping to cut a similar deal as before.
    The Feds seized them all on the grounds they were “illegally obtained & unlawful to posses.”
    Lengthy (multi-year) Court battle ensued. Initial ruling’s were favorable to the Switt family, but in the end, they were seized. (and zero compensation.)

    Nancy Carlson— she should report that bag as stolen, and pretend it never existed. The Feds do not like to lose and will target her mercilessly.

  • Jim Jakoubek

    Jim Davis –

    Sure it does.

    One of the provisions of the Moon Treaty is that it:

    Bans any state from claiming sovereignty over any territory of celestial bodies.

    I would argue that until that changes the Apollo hardware that is sitting on the Moon,
    while built, paid for and sent there by the US does not mean it still owns it but rather
    simply abandoned it there and therefore its open season on whomever wants it.

  • wayne

    Jim Jakoubek–

    Q:
    Did the Senate actually ratify that Moon Treaty, or what?

    I’m under the impression, at least some of those type of “space” Treaties, were signed by us (USA) but not all of them were actually ratified by the Senate.
    (and I’m too lazy to look it up right now)

    Personally, I’d advocate abrogating any such Treaties.

  • Wayne: The UN Outer Space Treaty was ratified by the Senate. We are obliged to follow it. It does provide a method for getting out (a year notification) but to do that would require some courage by our elected leaders. I don’t yet see that kind of courage.

  • wayne

    Thank you!

    So, in my words…we’re stuck with it, forever.)

    OMG… just found another website I didn’t know existed–

    United Nations: Office for Outer Space Affairs
    http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/status/index.html

    Jeez— I’m going to pray for a Borg Cube to come to Earth and remove the UN building from our home land and drop it in North Korea.

    In the meantime, I guess I should probably read the Treaty.

  • Brendan

    The treaty only stands until an organization declares its independence. I don’t think that will be long now with the rise of commercial space.

  • Edward

    Jim Jakoubek wrote: “I would argue that until that changes the Apollo hardware that is sitting on the Moon, while built, paid for and sent there by the US does not mean it still owns it but rather simply abandoned it there and therefore its open season on whomever wants it.

    I’m not a real lawyer; I only play one on the internet:
    I am not sure that abandonment is necessarily true. Among the equipment left behind are mirrors that are occasionally used to measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon. The use of that equipment may demonstrate that it is not abandoned but is part of ongoing research.

    It is much like the USGS survey markers on mountain tops. There may be no one there to guard them, but they are used occasionally and are not abandoned hardware.

    Whether the non-functional equipment around the Apollo mirrors would be considered as abandoned may be a different argument.

    Here is a Smithsonian article on the topic:
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/nasa-looks-to-protect-historic-sites-on-the-moon-47186092/?all
    To be sure, nations retain ownership of spacecraft and artifacts they leave on the moon, though it (and the planets) are common property, according to international treaties. In practical terms, that means no nation has jurisdiction over the lunar soil, upon which artifacts and precious footprints rest.

    Also from the Smithsonian article: “Without new international agreements, the norms governing lunar archaeology are likely to remain vague.

    The Apollo 11 site will most certainly be of historical relevance for centuries to come. I hope that as it becomes possible for the site to be disturbed, new international agreements pose terrible punishments for anyone who disturbs it.

    A final quote from the Smithsonian article: “With no traffic cops on the moon, the only deterrent against damaging sites might be the prospect of negative publicity.

  • wayne

    The Internet Archive folks have a very clean print of this classic cartoon–
    “Duck Dodgers in the 24th & 1/2 Century”
    https://archive.org/details/DuckDodgersInThe24thCentury

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