July 20 (UPI) -- A bag of moon dust collected by the crew of the Apollo 11 moon landing that was lost and sold to a space enthusiast for a few hundred dollars is being auctioned off Thursday for between $2 million and $4 million.
The humble canvass bag labeled "lunar sample return" contains dust from the surface of the moon that was collected 48 years ago Thursday, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.
The bag took a long journey to the Sotheby's auction bloc. While most of the items collected on the Apollo 11 mission are held by the Smithsonian, this sample was somehow separated and its significance overlooked for decades.
Kansas space collector Max Ary came into possession of the bag in the 1970s or 80s and it was stored at the Kansas City museum he opened called the Cosmosphere. Ary, who was eventually convicted of theft for selling space objects that belonged to NASA, said the bag was likely stored in the museum's basement.
After his conviction, the federal government took possession of Ary's artifacts and began selling them at auction to cover his court-ordered fines. That's when the bag's current owner, Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Ill., recognized its significance. The government initially put a $20,000 reserve on the auction, but after no one bid, they sold it to Carlson for $995.
Carlson sent the bag back to NASA to have it tested to see whether the dust inside really was from the moon. When NASA scientists realized it was moon dust -- and, at that, dust collected on the historic Apollo 11 mission -- they initially refused to give it back. After Carlson and NASA went to court, a judge said she had purchased the item fairly and NASA was ordered to give it back.
Carlson said she plans to use some of the proceeds from the auction to fund medical research and set up a scholarship fund at her alma mater.