When important scientific items get into the wrong hands, the situation can’t end well. NASA asked Boston-based RR Auction to halt the sale of moon dust that was collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.
Along with the moon dust, an experiment involving cockroaches is also involved in the sale. The insects were fed the lunar rock to see if any pathogen posed a threat to terrestrial life. NASA claims that these items still belong to the federal government.
The material from the experiment, including a vial with about 40 milligrams of moon dust and three cockroach carcasses, was expected to sell for at least $400,000 but has since been pulled from the auction block by RR Auction.
A NASA lawyer sent a letter to the auctioneer that read: “All Apollo samples, as stipulated in this collection of items, belong to NASA and no person, university, or other entity has ever been given permission to keep them after analysis, destruction, or other use for any purpose, especially for sale or individual display.
“We are requesting that you no longer facilitate the sale of any and all items containing the Apollo 11 Lunar Soil Experiment (the cockroaches, slides, and post-destructive testing specimen) by immediately stopping the bidding process.”
The cockroaches that were fed moon dust were brought to the University of Minnesota where entomologist Marion Brooks dissected and studied them. After the experiment, the items were never returned to NASA. Instead, Brooks decided to display them in her home. Her daughter sold the display in 2010 to the current consignor.
For now, RR Auction is holding onto the loot but to get the items squared, the consignor and NASA will need to work something out together.
The Apollo 11 mission brought more than 47 pounds of lunar rock back to Earth. Some of the dust was fed to insects, fish and other small creatures to see if it would kill them.