Almost 50 years ago, the Apollo 11 mission managed to successfully make Neil Armstrong the first man to ever walk on the moon. Besides this historic accomplishment, he also had to gather rocks in his lunar sample bag to bring them back to Earth for study.
The lunar sample bag has become an artifact of historical importance, and it’s currently embroiled in a legal dispute. Some time after its return to Earth, the bag was loaned for display to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. The founder and former director of the Center, Max Ary, had reportedly stolen a number of artifacts loaned by NASA, including the bag. Federal investigators discovered the lunar sample bag from the Apollo 11 mission in Ary’s garage in 2003. In 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay over $130, 000 in restitution.
The bag was returned to NASA only to be sold by mistake at a government auction in 2015. Nancy Carlson from Illinois purchased the bag from $995 and later sent it to NASA’s Johson Space Center in Houston to be authenticated. NASA instead decide to withhold the bag as it was aware of its accidental sale. In response, Carson has sued the agency in an Illinois federal court in an attempt to recover the bag.
Federal prosecutors involved in the case have requested the federal judge in Kansas who presided over Ary’s criminal case to rescind the sale and issue a refund to Carlson.
According to NASA officials, the source of the confusion is an internal clerical error. Two distinct lunar bags had the same inventory identification number on NASA’s spreadsheets. The other bag in question was from Apollo 17, the most recent lunar mission which launched 1972.
Both bags were stolen, but the Apollo 17 one was sold at an auction organized by Ary in 2001 for $24, 150. It was later recovered by the investigators in the case.
Ary was released in 2010 after serving 70 percent of his sentence but still claims he is innocent for the sale of the lunar artifacts. He claims that he accidentally mixed museum artifacts with items from his private collection.
What do you think about the history of the lunar sample bag from Apollo 11?
Image source: Wikimedia