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NASA halts sale of Apollo 11 Moon dust, claiming ownership

We’re here to help you: The auction of a tiny amount of Moon dust brought back by Apollo 11 and used in a post-flight experiment using German cockroaches has been canceled because NASA claimed ownership of that dust and demanded its return.

“NASA asserts legal ownership of the materials consisting of the Apollo 11 lunar dust experiment … based upon the information and documentation provided in the description of the lot and evidence regarding NASA’s contemporaneous contracting practices,” an attorney in NASA’s Office of the General Counsel wrote RR Auction in a letter on Wednesday, a week after first reaching out to the firm. “It is clear and undeniable that the materials consisting of the experiment are owned by NASA.”

The lot under contention comprises what remains from the late Marion Brooks’ research into the physiological effects of lunar material on Blattellas germanica, or German cockroaches. The insects had been fed moon dust by NASA scientists in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. After no ill-effects were seen while astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were held in quarantine, the (now dead) cockroaches were handed off to Brooks, an entomologist from the University of St. Paul, for more thorough study.

Included in the auction was a small vial of moon dust that Brooks’ had carefully extracted from the cockroaches’ corpses, as well as three of the remaining (dead) cockroaches and two boxes of tissue slides for microscopic study.

It appears the dust had been in the Brooks family possession for more than forty years, then sold by them at auction in 2010 for $10,000. Under standard adverse possession law, you lose ownership if you don’t claim that right after twenty years. It would thus seem that NASA’s claim is bogus.

But then, NASA as a government agency doesn’t believe the standard laws apply to it. It continues to demand that all Apollo lunar material belongs to it and be returned, no matter what the circumstances it was originally handed out by the agency and no matter how long ago.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Matt in AZ

    For crying out loud, it’s as if they expect to never to go back to moon and get more.

  • Lee S

    There must be an excellent business case for a private lunar sample return mission. A few kilos of regolith would surely bring in enough to cover the cost of the mission.

  • GaryMike

    The intrinsic value of “the first, ever” is normally far greater than the value of the commonly acquired.

    What disappoints me most is that the damn cockroaches are harder to kill than we hope.

  • wayne

    –*somewhat similar* thing has happened before.
    In (very)brief: 400K Gold $20 coins (double eagles) were minted in 1933, then FDR outlawed public gold ownership and the 400K specimens were melted down, 2 specimens were given to the US Mint collection and 1 specimen was lawfully exported to the king of Egypt. After the King’s death, his coin collection was dispersed. The 1933 specimen appeared many years later and the Feds seized it, claiming it was stolen property–lengthy trial ensued and it was eventually legally monetized and auctioned off with the Feds taking 50% of the take.
    The Story of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Gold Double Eagle ($20) Coin

  • The Docent

    Under the common law, adverse possession does not apply to governments. The right facts might give rise to a waiver or estoppel. A good article on the sale of lunar rocks and dust is this one:

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