Priceless Space Artifact Accidentally Sold at Government Auction

It's now the center of a legal fight
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2016 8:01 PM CDT
Priceless Space Artifact Accidentally Sold at Government Auction
More than four decades after the Apollo 11 moon landing, the bag full of souvenirs brought back by astronaut Neil Armstrong has come to light.   (AP Photo/National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Dane Penland)

A priceless bag used during the first moon walk was accidentally sold at a government auction, and is now the center of a legal dispute, the AP reports. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tucked moon rocks into the white sack they took with them during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. After discovering the bag was hawked last year, the government is now scrambling to reverse the sale. The bag is embedded with space material and is "a rare artifact, if not a national treasure," officials say. Although a clerical error was to blame for the sale, the bag caper dates back to the case brought against Max Ary, the ex-director of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, who was convicted in 2005 of stealing and selling museum artifacts. The Apollo 11 bag was among hundreds of items found during a search of his garage.

Then the government accidentally sold the bag at auction in 2015. Nancy Carlson, the Illinois woman who bought it for $995, sent it to NASA to confirm it was the real deal. It was—and surprised NASA officials kept it instead of returning it, touching off a legal fight. It turns out the bag was given the same inventory identification number as a similar one used on the final Apollo 17 mission in 1972, the Christian Science Monitor reports. (Ary had sold that one in 2001 for $24,150. It was eventually recovered.) Carlson sued in June to have the bag returned to her, but federal prosecutors are asking a judge to rescind the sale. Astronauts called the lunar bags the “purse.” After Armstrong’s death in 2012, his widow found one of them, filled with space-related objects, in a closet. (More space bag stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.