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.

Woman sues NASA to keep possession of moon dust

A Tennessee woman is proactively suing NASA in order to guarantee the agency will not try to steal a vial of moon dust that Neil Armstrong gave to her in the early 1970s.

Murray Cicco received the small glass vial full of gray moon dust in the early 1970s. The vial came with a note: “To Laura Ann Murray — Best of luck — Neil Armstron Apollo 11.” …Armstrong’s note and signature have been verified and testing has confirmed the contents in the vial he gifted her do include dust from the moon.

Decades after receiving the glass vial of moon dust, Murray Cicco is moving forward with her federal court case in Wichita, even though she lives in Tennessee. The reason for filing the case in Kansas goes back to a previous case in 2016 where a U.S. District Court judge in Wichita ruled in favor of a collector who bought a bag containing moon dust that was mistakenly placed in an online government auction. In that case, the bag was then sold at auction last year for $1.8 million.

While NASA hasn’t demanded Murray Cicco give up the vial of moon dust, Murray Cicco’s attorney has requested a jury trial in Wichita to stay ahead. “There is no law against private persons owning lunar material. Lunar material is not contraband. It is not illegal to own or possess,” the court document detailing the case says. “Therefore, she requests judgment declaring her the rightful and legal owner of the vial and its contents, and vesting title in her name.”

This is a very wise move on her part. NASA has for years made it clear that it thinks it owns all moon material brought back by the Apollo missions, and has had the arrogant policy of demanding the return of any moon dust or rocks that it discovered was in the possession of any private citizen, no matter how small, or how well documented the ownership. This court case acts to block such actions, before NASA can even think of them.