The Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag
July 18, 2017

Neil Armstrong’s lunar sample bag may set records at auction

A bag used by NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong to collect dust and rocks from the lunar surface is expected to bring in an otherworldly sum when it goes up for auction (along with several other pieces of important space memorabilia) later on this week at Sotheby’s in New York City.

Used by Armstrong to transport the very first lunar samples ever collected back to Earth as part of the Apollo 11 mission, the bag still contains dust and small rocks and is expected to fetch up to $4 million once the auction begins at 11am Thursday morning, according to Fortune.

“This seemingly modest bag... played a crucial role in the most important scientific task of the Apollo 11 mission – to bring back the first sample of lunar material ever collected,” Cassandra Hatton, the vice president and senior specialist at Southeby’s who is in charge of the upcoming auction, said in a statement, according to CollectSpace.

“To be able to see such an object in person is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she added. “It is one thing to read about going to the moon; it is quite another to hold in one's hands an object that was actually there and still carries traces of that faraway place.”

In addition to the bag, items available for the auction include the Apollo 13 flight plan (which is expected to bring in $30,000 to $40,000 at the auction) and the record file for famed Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, which will likely go for at least $50,000, photographs of the moon taken by the US space agency and even a spacesuit worn by Gus Grissom, the Science Times added.

The unusual journey of this unusual space artifact

According to Sotheby’s, the auction is their first space-themed sale in approximately two decades and was scheduled to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Several of the items come from astronauts’ private collections, and some are autographed, they noted.

While such artifacts, as well as photos, tools, maps, charts and more, will be available to buy at the auction, the Armstrong sample bag is the obvious showcase piece – but, as collectSpace, the Science Times and Fortune explained, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, it previously failed to sell at auction and wound up being purchased as part of a lot for less than $1,000.

For many years, the bag was stored at the famous Johnson Space Center in Houston, but at some point, NASA lost track of it and it ended up being found in the garage of Max Ary, co-founder of the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. Ary was later convicted of stealing and selling artifacts belonging to NASA and the Cosmosphere, but the Armstrong bag was inadvertently sold in 2015 on behalf of the US Marshals Service to cover restitution due by the museum manager.

However, the bag was unable to find a buyer at Marshal Service auctions on two occasions and wound up going to Chicago-area attorney Nancy Lee Carlson for just $995 on the third attempt. In an effort to learn more about the bag, Carlson contacted NASA, who tested it and its contents and found that the bag contained actual moon dust collected by Armstrong.

The agency attempted to keep the sample bag and its contents, but Carlson filed a lawsuit. She won, and NASA was forced to return the item to her after a Texas judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to overturn the result of the Marshals’ sale. Now, with the bag authenticated by NASA, Carlson has decided to put it up for auction once again – and this time she is expected to earn a considerable return on her initial investment.

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Image credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew