DEAL OF THE CENTURY: Apollo 11 Moon Rock Bag Sells for $1.8 Million in Controversial Auction.
While Armstrong’s lunar bag didn’t break any records, it has been the subject of frenzied discussion since NASA accidentally sold it to a private collector three years ago. As Blakemore explains, investigators found the bag while searching through the belongings of Max Ary, the former president of the Kansas Cosmosphere. In 2005, Ary was indicted of stealing and selling museum artifacts, including ones that had been loaned out by NASA.
“[D]ue to an error in NASA’s system, the bag was confused with another space bag from a later lunar landing, and was then accidentally sold to an Illinois woman for just $995 at auction,” Blakemore writes.
The buyer, one Nancy Carlson, knew that the bag had been used during a space flight, but she wasn’t sure which one. So she sent the bag of to NASA for testing. The agency, realizing its cosmic goof, refused to return the bag. The item “belongs to the American people,” NASA said in a statement at the time, according to the AP.
But U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in Carlson’s favor. He said that while the bag should never have been put up for sale, he had no recourse to reverse the transaction. NASA was forced to return the artifact in February of 2017.
If correcting NASA’s screwup was so important, the government could have bid at the auction.