‘Give us our Moon dust and cockroaches back’: NASA tells auction company

NASA wants its cockroaches and moon dust back. The space agency has asked Boston-based RR Auction to halt the sale of samples collected during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Here’s the full story.

NASA wants its moon dust and cockroaches back

NASA wants its moon dust and cockroaches back

NASA has asked RR auction, a Boston-based firm to hold the sales of moon dust from the Apollo 11 mission. The agency had fed the moon dust to cockroaches as a part of a study to determine if the lunar rock contained pathogens harmful to terrestrial life.

According to a letter to the firm from a NASA lawyer, the samples are the property of the federal government. “All Apollo samples, as stipulated in this collection of items, belong to NASA. And no person, university, or other entity has ever been given permission to keep them after analysis, destruction, or other use for any purpose. Especially for sale or individual display,” read the letter.

“We are requesting that you no longer facilitate the sale of any and all items containing the Apollo 11 Lunar Soil Experiment (the cockroaches, slides, and post-destructive testing specimen) by immediately stopping the bidding process,” it adds.

“The material from the experiment, including a vial with about 40 milligrams of moon dust and three cockroach carcasses, was expected to sell for at least $400,000. But has been pulled from the auction block,” stated the company.

More on the lunar samples

The Apollo 11 mission returned to earth with over 47 pounds of lunar rock. A small part of the moon dust was fed to cockroaches, small insects, and fishes to see if it would kill them.

The cockroaches that were fed moon dust were brought to the University of Minnesota where entomologist Marion Brooks dissected and studied them.

“I found no evidence of infectious agents,” Brooks said. She found no evidence that the moon material was toxic or caused any other ill effects on the insects.

However, the moon rock and cockroaches never returned to NASA. Instead, Brook displayed them in her house. Three years after Brook’s death in 2007, her daughter sold them in 2010. Now they are up for sale again by a consignor who RR did not disclose.

Additionally, in a recent letter from June 22, NASA’s lawyer asks RR Auction to work with the current owner and ensure the return of the materials to the federal government.

It’s not unusual for a third party to lay claim to something that is being auctioned, said Mark Zaid, an attorney for RR Auction.

“NASA has a track record of pursuing items related to the early space programs,” although they have been inconsistent in doing so, Zaid said. By its own admission, NASA acknowledged in one of its letters that it did not know about the previous auction of the cockroach experiment items.

“We have worked with NASA before and have always cooperated with the U.S. government when they lay claims to items,” Zaid said. “At the end of the day, we want to act appropriately and lawfully.”

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