A microscopic amount of lunar dust has been sold at auction in New York for $500,000. It concerns five samples collected by Neil Armstrong during his lunar mission in July 1969. The new owner is unknown, and the highest bidder is unknown. The sale is controversial. “According to NASA, it’s actually illegal possession,” says Rob van den Berg of the Sonnenburg Observatory in Utrecht.
Van den Berg says it’s a hot story of how moon dust ended up at auction. It’s about the dust left in the bag in which Armstrong collected the first samples from the Moon during his mission. Subsequently, the bag was mistagged, stolen from the Cosmosphere Space Museum in Kansas by a museum director and eventually sold to an individual for about a thousand dollars.
“At one point, Jupiter found remnants of moon dust there, if analyzed by NASA and NASA finds … this is actually from Apollo 11 (the Armstrong mission), we have to keep that.” After a lawsuit, NASA was unsuccessful and the bag was allowed to return to the owner. “According to NASA, it’s actually illegal property.”
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The owner actually sold the bag in 2017 for $1.8 million through an auction and now the remains of moon dust for $500,000. It is an issue with potentially dire consequences.
Mark Sundal, an expert on international space law, told National Geopgraphic that the sale of lunar dust is “another step toward commercializing space resources.”
“It’s the only material from the Moon that is currently privately owned, so it’s already been certified by NASA,” van den Berg says.
Van den Berg maintains that these are really microscopic particles. “Actually, this is so insignificant, that they were not even able to give weight in the auction.” The dust is said to be comparable to very fine sand and is part of the samples that NASA examined after the lunar mission, which were able to identify minerals on the moon.
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