NASA wants auction house to return Apollo 11 moon dust – and cockroaches

By Mark Pratt, Associated Press

BOSTON — NASA wants its moon dust and cockroaches back.

The space agency has asked Boston-based RR Auction to stop selling moon dust collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that was then fed to cockroaches during an experiment to determine if the Moon rock contained some kind of pathogen that posed a threat to terrestrial life.

The material, a NASA lawyer said in a letter to the auctioneer, is still owned by the federal government.

The experiment’s equipment, including a vial containing about 40 milligrams of moon dust and three cockroach carcasses, was expected to sell for at least $400,000 but was withdrawn from auction, RR said Thursday.

“All Apollo samples, as stipulated in this collection of articles, belong to NASA and no person, university or other entity has ever been authorized to retain them after analysis, destruction or other use for any purpose. either, particularly for sale or individual display,” the NASA letter dated June 15 said.

He continued: “We request that you no longer facilitate the sale of all items containing the Apollo 11 experiment on lunar soil (the cockroaches, slides and post-destructive test specimens) by immediately halting the sale process. ‘tender,’ NASA wrote. .

In another letter dated June 22, NASA’s attorney asked RR Auction to work with the current owner of the material to return it to the federal government.

The Apollo 11 mission brought over 47 pounds (21.3 kilograms) of moon rock to Earth. Some were fed to insects, fish and other small creatures to see if it would kill them.

The moondust-fed cockroaches were brought to the University of Minnesota where entomologist Marion Brooks dissected and studied them.

“I found no evidence of infectious agents,” Brooks, who died in 2007, told the Minneapolis Tribune for an October 1969 article. She found no evidence that the lunar material was toxic or caused other harmful effects on insects, according to the article.

But the moon rock and cockroaches were never returned to NASA, but put on display at Brooks’ home. His daughter sold them in 2010, and now they’re on sale again from a shipper that RR didn’t disclose.

It’s not unusual for a third party to claim something that’s up for auction, said RR Auction attorney Mark Zaid.

“NASA has a proven track record of pursuing elements related to early space programs,” although they were inconsistent in doing so, Zaid said. By its own admission, NASA admitted in one of its letters that it was unaware of the previous auction of cockroach experiment items.

“We have worked with NASA before and have always cooperated with the US government when they claim objects,” Zaid said. “At the end of the day, we want to act appropriately and legally.”

RR Auction is holding the lot for now, but ultimately it’s up to the shipper to work out a solution with NASA, he said.

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