The first lunar dust samples ever collected during the Apollo 11 mission are heading for auction next month.
The samples will be offered as Bonhams in New York on April 13, where they’re expected to sell for up to $1.2 million.
The dust was part of the contingency sample collected by Neil Armstrong during his first moonwalk.
As he collected the sample during the mission, he reported back to Mission Control in Houston:
“The surface is fine and powdery, I can kick it up loosely with my toe… This is very interesting. It’s a very soft surface, but here and there where I plug with the contingency sample collector, I run into a very hard surface… It has a starry beauty all its own.”
The samples were so highly prized by NASA that when the Apollo 11 crew returned to Earth, the team of rescue frogmen were told “Save the Moon rocks first. We only have one bag of rocks. We have lots of astronauts”.
However, decades later NASA was far less careful.
Armstrong’s original sample bag containing traces of the dust was actually lost by NASA, and ended up in the collection of a curator at a space museum in Kansas.
When he was found guilty of selling museum property, the bag was confiscated and sold to pay damages in a U.S. Marshal auction.
It was then purchased by collector Nancy Lee Carlson for just $995. But when she sent it to NASA to be authenticated, they realized it was missing from their archives and refused to return it.
A lengthy legal battle ensued, and after Carlson won the right to own the bag she sold it at Sotheby’s for a record $1.8 million.
The microscopic dust samples now offered by Bonhams were those recovered by NASA from inside that sample bag.
Following further litigation, they will now also head to auction – making them the only lunar dust samples from the entire Apollo programme that can legally be sold.
“Everyone can envision the footage of Armstrong taking those first steps on the Moon. It was a pivotal moment in history when people all over the world rejoiced at one of the greatest achievements of humankind,” saidAdam Stackhouse, Bonhams Specialist of Fine Books and Manuscripts.
“Humans had landed on the Moon – and brought a small piece back to Earth with them.”