NASA Accidentally Auctioned Off an Apollo 11 Artifact, and the Owner Won't Give It Back

Tuesday, 09 August 2016 - 3:57PM
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Tuesday, 09 August 2016 - 3:57PM
NASA Accidentally Auctioned Off an Apollo 11 Artifact, and the Owner Won't Give It Back
You would think that NASA would keep their rare, priceless historical artifacts under lock and key, and usually they do. Unfortunately, a clerical error has made a bit of a mess, and the space agency has sold a genuine Apollo 11 souvenir—for less than a thousand dollars.

In 2015, the bag used on the Apollo 11 mission to carry lunar samples back to Earth was sold to a woman in Inverness, Illinois for $995. She then sent the bag to NASA for authentification, and they discovered that it had been sold without their permission—which makes sense, considering that the bag still has "lunar material embedded in its fabric," according to The AP. The oversight was apparently due to a clerical error, in which the bag was mis-labeled as an Apollo 17 bag. (You would still think would be more expensive than a thousand dollars, but whatever.)

So now, NASA has physical custody of the bag, but is now embroiled in a legal battle with the owner, Nancy Carlson. Carlson is suing NASA in an Illinois federal court, claiming that she bought the bag fair and square, while NASA is claiming that they are still the rightful owners because there was no proper forfeiture. The government is calling the bag "a rare artifact, if not a national treasure," and is hoping that the federal judge will rule to invalidate the sale and give Carlson her money back.

The judge presiding over Carlson's case also happens to be the judge who oversaw another case involving the very same bag. In 2005, Max Ary, the founder and director of the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, was convicted of selling museum artifacts that he'd stolen from his museum. The bag was recovered in his garage, along with other artifacts he was planning to sell, and NASA got it back safe and sound. Hopefully this story will have an equally happy(ish?) ending.
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