Five lunar dust samples from the Apollo-11 mission sold for more than $500,000 on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Bonhams
April 14 (UPI) -- Moon dust Neil Armstrong collected in 1969 has sold for more than $500,000 at auction after NASA lost legal battles over its ownership.
Five samples of the NASA-verified moon dust and the NASA container they're held in from the Apollo 11 mission sold for $504,375 on Wednesday, which was far below pre-auction estimate of between $800,000 and $1.2 million, according to the auction house Bonhams.
Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, scooped up the dust on July 21, 1969.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said of the Apollo 11 mission experience in the now famous quote.
The winning bid in the auction was $400,000, and the final price of $504,375 included the buyer's premium, Bonham told Forbes.
The auction follows multiple lawsuits over the rare lunar materials.
NASA has argued that the moon dust collected during the Apollo mission was government property and private citizens should not be allowed to own it.
The saga of how NASA lost custody of the sample bag of moon dust dates back several decades when the agency loaned it to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kan., then at some unknown point it disappeared.
When Max Ary, the Cosmophere space museum's director, left in 2002, several items were missing, prompting an investigation, which found that Ary had sold museum artifacts alongside his personal collection and pocketed the profits.
Ary was convicted on multiple counts, with charges of wire fraud, theft of government property, and money laundering being among them, sentenced to three years in prison, and fined $132,374.
The lunar sample bag was found during a federal search of Ary's property, but due to a mix-up in catalog numbers, officials did not realize its significance. In 2015, the U.S. Marshals Service sold it in an online auction of Ary's seized space collection to help pay for his fines.
Nancy Lee Carslon, of Inverness, Ill., bought it for $995 in the auction, and sent it to NASA to confirm its authenticity, but after the federal space agency did so, it refused to give it back.
Carlson then sued NASA to return it to her, and a judge ruled in her favor in 2016, saying she had purchased it fairly and ordered NASA to give it back.
In 2017, Carlson auctioned off the bag for $1.8 million.
In 2019, Carlson sued NASA again for damaging the bag during inspection and holding onto some of the dust, which eventually resulted in a settlement where NASA returned five samples. Those were the samples auctioned off for $504,375 on Wednesday.