Woman wins court case against Nasa, gets to keep bag of moon dust bought for US$995

A priceless bag of moon dust from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission will stay in the possession of space enthusiast Nancy Lee Carlson after a court ruled in her favour on Feb 24, 2017.
A priceless bag of moon dust from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission will stay in the possession of space enthusiast Nancy Lee Carlson after a court ruled in her favour on Feb 24, 2017.PHOTO: NASA

HOUSTON - A bag of moon dust collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and the only known one of its kind. Priceless, right?

Unfortunately, putting a price on it was exactly what happened due to a bureaucratic mix-up between Nasa and the US Marshals Service.

Regarded as an American national treasure, the bag was allowed to be auctioned off to space enthusiast Nancy Lee Carlson in February 2015 - for US$995 (S$1,407).

When Ms Carlson, a Chicago native, sent the bag to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston to test its authenticity last year, Nasa realised its mistake and confiscated the bag.

But the space agency was ordered by a federal judge last Friday (Feb 24) to return the bag to Ms Carlson, putting an end to a year-long legal wrangle over the bag's ownership.

This marks the only known case in the US in which a private citizen has won ownership of a lunar object that the government had previously sold, apparently by mistake.

"It's what every collector wants," the Chicago Tribune quoted Ms Carlson's attorney, Mr Christopher McHugh, as saying. "You want to find the thing that's super special."

The bag was used as the outer decontamination bag to store the first lunar samples collected on the Apollo 11 mission by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Said a Nasa spokesman in a statement issued following the court's ruling: "Nasa is obviously disappointed... This artifact was never meant to be owned by an individual."