The space agency is fighting to get the “national treasure” back after it was sold for less than $1,000 due to a clerical error.
NASA accidentally sold a priceless Apollo 11 artefact and now faces a legal battle to get it back.
The bag was used to collect moon samples in 1969, and was sold by mistake last year due to a clerical error.
It was snapped up by Nancy Carlson from Illinois for just $995 (around £700), but NASA says it’s a priceless “rare artifact, if not a national treasure”.
NASA only realised the mistake when Ms Carlson sent back the bag for authentication.
The space agency then decided to keep it, and is now working with federal prosecutors to reclaim legal ownership of the item.
Meanwhile, Ms Carlson has launched her own lawsuit against NASA to get the back back.
Apollo 11 was the first mission to successfully land humans on the moon.
The 1969 mission saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spend several hours on the surface gathering more than 20kg of lunar material to return to Earth.
The bag itself still has fragments of lunar debris embedded in its material.
It is not the first time that the bag has been mired in controversy.
In 2005 a director of a Kansas space centre was found guilty of stealing and auctioning space artefacts loaned by NASA.
During the investigation NASA officials found the Apollo 11 lunar bag inside his garage.
The latest mix-up was due to two items in NASA’s inventory being given the same identification number, meaning the wrong item was sold.
The US government made a major blooper when it accidentally auctioned off an artefact from the Apollo 11 mission. A clerical error resulted in the sale of the bag used by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to collect samples of moon rock during the first manned lunar mission back in 1969.
According to Nasa officials, the bag was sold off at a government auction last year and bought by Nancy Carlson from Illinois for just $995 (£762). The space agency only realised the mistake when the woman sent the bag back to it for authentication. Nasa then decided to take possession of the artefact – for which Carlson has now launched a lawsuit against the government body.
According to Tech Times, the bag was part of a collection of priceless items that were seized from the home of director of Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Max Ary. He was later found guilty of stealing and selling off a number of the artefacts which were given on loan to the space centre.
Federal prosecutors now want the judge who handled the criminal case of Ary to rescind the sale and refund the money Carlson spent, citing that the error occurred due to a mix up in the historical bag’s identification number. Two separate lunar bags — one used in the 1972 Apollo 17 lunar mission and the other from Apollo 11 – were assigned the same ID number. Ary auctioned the 1972 sample bag in 2001 for $24,150.
This is not the first time artefacts from the iconic moon-landing mission have made their way to the wrong hands. In 2015, Carol Armstrong, the widow of the famous astronaut, found a bag containing various mementos from the Apollo 11 mission. Among them were the camera used to capture the first human landing. These items were expected to be left behind in the lunar module on the moon, but were reportedly sneaked back by Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.
NASA and federal prosecutors are attempting to recover the bag used by Apollo 11 astronauts to collect Moon samples back in 1969 that they accidentally sold at an auction last year.
Officials say the bag was sold due to a clerical error that marked two lunar bags, one from Apollo 17 and the other from Apollo 11, with the same inventory number – an error that was brought to their attention when the new owner of the Apollo 11 bag sent it back to NASA for authentication.
NASA decided to keep it, and right now, the US space agency and federal prosecutors are working together to ensure the bag – which they’re calling a “national treasure” – stays at NASA. But the current owner – Nancy Carlson from Illinois – claims that she bought it fair and square, which means a legal battle is now taking shape.
The funny thing is that this isn’t the first time the Apollo 11 lunar bag has been the subject of controversy. Back in 2005, Max Ary – the founder and director of the Kansas Cosmophere and Space Centre – was found guilty of stealing and auctioning off space artefacts that NASA had loaned his institution for display purposes.
During Ary’s investigation two years earlier, NASA officials found the Apollo 11 lunar bag inside his garage along with many other artefacts that he was planning to sell.
Now, NASA hopes to talk with the same federal judge that helped them recover the bag from Ary to get it back from Carlson, who bought it last year for US$995.
Since Carlson really did buy the bag from an actual government auction and didn’t commit any sort of crime, she has started her own lawsuit against NASA to give it back.
It seems weird, but space artefacts are pretty notorious for wandering off. Last year, Neil Armstrong’s widow Carol found a white bag inside her late husband’s closet that was filled with Apollo artefacts, including the camera used on the lunar surface to capture Armstrong taking his first steps, and saying the famous “One small step for man” line.
Armstrong was supposed to leave those artefacts inside the lunar module, which remains on the Moon, but instead, he and his fellow astronauts brought back keepsakes from the mission, saying they were trash.
Two months after officials were alerted of Armstrong’s secret stash, another artefact turned up when a scrap dealer in Tennessee found a missing lunar rover prototype known as the Brown Engineering Local Scientific Survey Module (Brown LSSM), which NASA sold 50 years ago and lost track of.
It’s hard to say what will come of the current case between NASA and Carlson, though it all lies with the federal judge, who has already helped the space agency out once before. Only time will tell, but if this news should teach us anything, it’s that there are space artefacts all over the place if we keep our eyes open.