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NASA is now being sued by the owner of an Apollo 11 lunar sample bag

Published Jan 25th, 2019 9:03PM EST
lunar sample bag
Image: Sotheby's

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When Apollo 11 astronauts returned from the Moon and handed over the first samples of lunar material ever gathered by human hands it was a monumental moment for NASA and humanity as a whole. It would have been impossible for the astronauts to predict that one of their more mundane pieces of equipment would become the subject of a hefty lawsuit almost half a century later.

Nancy Lee Carlson was the previous owner of a lunar sample return bag that was used during the Apollo 11 mission to carry moon rocks and dust. The bag has an incredible history, and not just because it visited the Moon. As CollectSpace reports, Carlson now alleges that NASA owes her money over damage to the bag.

Buckle up, because this is one very odd story.

Upon returning to Earth, all the gear from the Apollo 11 mission was held by NASA and considered to be quite historic, for obvious reasons. However, the bag and other space artifacts were subsequently stolen and ended up in the possession of a museum curator who was eventually arrested. Law enforcement mislabeled the bag, not realizing its true origins, and it ended up in a government auction where Carlson bought it for $995 in 2015.

Carlson sought NASA’s help in identifying what the bag may have been used for, who determined the bag was indeed from the Apollo mission, and it even still held small bits of Moon material in its fabric. NASA then refused to return the bag to Carlson, leading to a court battle that ended in Carlson being awarded custody of the bag.

Carlson decided to sell the bag, again at auction, and this time it fetched a sum of over $1.8 million. A lofty price, but early estimates put its value at as much as $4 million, and now Carlson is claiming that damage done to the bag by NASA while it was in their possession is the reason that the sale price fell. She’s now seeking compensation for that lost value as well as for emotional distress related to the drama over the bag and NASA’s refusal to return it to her.

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