One small spec for mankind! Tiny sample of moon dust sells for $500k

One small spec for mankind! Tiny sample of moon dust collected by Neil Armstrong during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission sells for $500,000 at auction

  • Specks of moon dust sold for $500k, far below expectations of $1 million plus 
  • They are the only verified moon samples to be sold into private hands 
  • The seller sent the dust to NASA for verification and NASA refused to return it 
  • NASA lost in court and was ordered to return the moon dust to rightful owner 
  • The bag that contained the dust sold for a whopping $1.4 million in 2017 

Tiny particles of moon dust collected by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission  have sold for $500,000 at auction.

Bonhams said the winning bid was only $400,000 plus fees and the buyer’s premium, far below the expected pre-auction estimate of between $800,000 and $1.2 million. 

They are the only verified moon samples to be sold into private hands and the journey they took to the auction house was almost as epic as the voyage Armstrong made to retrieve them.

Adam Stackhouse, a specialist at Bonhams, said: ‘This is an incredibly unique situation – it is the only time in history a verified sample from the Apollo mission has sold at auction.

‘Still in its case from NASA, this is a rare relic marking the height of human achievement when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon for the first time.’

The moon dust sold for $500,000 in auction at Bonham’s auction house. They are pictured here preserved on top of the aluminium stubs so they can be placed under a microscope

Neil Armstrong pictured on April 18, 2006, receiving the NASA Ambassadors of Exploration award April 18, 2006 in Cincinnati, Ohio

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface July 20, 1969 after collecting lunar samples 

From left to right, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin Jnr, the crew of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing mission, as they are subjected to a period of quarantine upon their return to earth

The photo from Bonhams auction house, advertising ‘a unique opportunity to own a NASA-verified piece of the Apollo-11 contingency sample 5 Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) aluminum sample stubs’

A close-up of a sample of moon rock brought back from the Apollo 11 mission. The $500,000 paid at auction yesterday only covered microscopic moon dust 

A lunar sample moon rock is displayed at Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle

NASA went to court to fight for ownership of the lunar dust scooped up by Neil Armstrong just moments after he made his famous ‘one giant leap for mankind’ line after they lost track of the samples.

They resurfaced when attorney Nancy Carlson speculatively paid $995 for what was labeled as a ‘flown zippered lunar sample return bag with lunar dust’ in a U.S. Marshal’s auction in 2015.

She sent her new purchase off to NASA in hope to verify the contents of the bag, and when NASA realised it was indeed genuine moon dust from the Apollo program’s first mission to the moon, they returned the bag to her but kept its contents.

‘She wanted to get it verified by NASA – so she sent it to them’ Stackhouse said. ‘There was a bit of back and forth, then after a while they stopped replying.

‘Before she knew it, they were refusing to give it back. Eventually they gave her the bag back -without the dust which had been removed.

Carlson promptly sued NASA for wrongful seizure of property in 2016 and won.  

She sold the bag that had contained the space dust for a whopping $1.4 million in 2017. 

The record price for space exploration memorabilia at auction is $2.9 million, for a Soviet-era space capsule in 2011.

It had been used in a series of unmanned tests leading up to the launch of Vostok 1, which took cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961.

The Lunar Module ascent stage on the return journey from the moon. NASA went to court to fight for ownership of the lunar dust scooped up by Neil Armstrong just moments after he made his famous ‘one giant leap for mankind’ line after they lost track of the samples

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Commander of NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, photographed at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, July 1969. They resurfaced when attorney Nancy Carlson speculatively paid $995 for what was labeled as a ‘flown zippered lunar sample return bag with lunar dust’ in a U.S. Marshal’s auction in 2015

Armstrong said of the moon dust: ‘I can kick it up loosely with my toe. I only go in a small fraction of an inch but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.’

This photo of Buzz Aldrin before the American flag was taken by Neil Armstrong as they explored the surface of the moon

It is unclear to this day how NASA lost the precious samples. 

Armstrong was instructed by NASA to collect samples of moon rocks and dust soon after the landing in case the mission had to be aborted. 

After making his famous statement regarding his first steps on the Moon, he then examined the lunar surface.

He reported back to the world of how the surface was ‘fine and powdery’. 

He added: ‘I can kick it up loosely with my toe. I only go in a small fraction of an inch but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.’

He placed the dust in a special Teflon decontamination bag which he put inside the strap-on pocket of his space suit. He carried it back to earth and handed it over to NASA.

NASA failed to realise the importance of the bag and somehow it vanished only to reappear in the private collection of a Kansas space museum curator Max Ary’s private collection.

Ary was busted in 2003 for stealing it along with other space artefacts and was prosecuted for fraud, theft, and money laundering. 

US government officials unwittingly sold the bag to pay for Mr Ary’s damages when Carlson bought it – not realising the inside was caked in moon dust,   

The samples have been preserved on top of the aluminium stubs so they can be placed under a microscope.

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