A Chicago-area woman named Nancy Lee Carlson has won a lawsuit against NASA. The US space agency had confiscated a bag containing moon dust that Carlson had bought via a winning bid in 2015. NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had collected the lunar samples on July 16, 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Now a federal judge in Houston has ordered NASA to return the moon dust to Carlson and she has since taken possession.
How it all started and how the government mistakenly sold off a national treasure
The former president of a space museum in Kansas, Max Ary, was charged and convicted of selling museum items in 2006. This bag of moon dust among hundreds of other priceless objects was among the items sold of via auctions. It was originally sold off for $24,150 but NASA caught wind of the sale and seized it from the buyer, and then sent it to the US Marshals Service from where it was put up for another auction on forfeiture.gov so as to enable the government make back the sum of the item, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The government asked for a starting bid of $20,000 but nobody placed any bid on it. Then it was put up for auction again in February 2015 and Carlson saw it then and placed the highest winning bid of $995. She got the bag of moon dust via the mail and later sent it to the Johnson Space Center in Houston so that NASA curators could confirm the genuineness of the lunar material.
The government mistakenly sold the national treasure to an individual
NASA experts confirmed the bag of moon dust to be very real and then decided not to return it to Carlson again - saying it was a priceless national treasure and rightfully belonged to the government. According to NASA, "this artifact was never meant to be owned by an individual...it belongs to the American people and should be on display for the public." Carlson, a corporate attorney, went to court and was represented by Christopher McHugh.
It is now clear that the government had sold off the "national treasure" by mistake, but US District Judge J. Thomas Marten ordered that NASA must return the bag of moon samples to Carlson. NASA eventually obeyed and handed over the bag to Carlson at the Houston space center on Monday. She would not keep it in her bedroom closet again, but hired a reputable security firm to keep possession of the precious bag, CBS News reported.