Government Officials Accidentally Sold A Priceless Space Artifact

A piece of NASA history for $995

Photo courtesy of Gaston and Sheehan Auctioneers

A hugely significant bag used on the Apollo 11 moon landing has found itself the center of some bizarre interstellar intrigue, on a level not seen since astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak was foiled in a kidnapping scheme back in 2007.

According to the Associated Press, the white bag took a trip to the moon on the first lunar landing back in 1969, accruing some moon dust in its fabric along the way. The federal government called it "a rare artifact, if not a national treasure."

Somehow the bag fell into the hands of Max Ary, disgraced director of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Ary was accused of pilfering numerous valuable relics; the bag was discovered during a 2003 search warrant on his garage.

Flash forward to last year, when the bag was sold at a government auction for a paltry $995, to one Nancy Carlson, resident of Inverness, Illinois. Carlson sent the bag in to NASA for authentication; NASA realized their blunder and held onto it (Carlson is now suing).

This bag was no ordinary NASA relic—it was used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to collect the very first samples of lunar rock. It was sold after getting mixed up with a second lunar bag that was auctioned off by Ary in 2001 and later recovered.

The second bag, while still cool, was used in the much-less-prestigious 1972 lunar landing by Apollo 17. The lesser bag fetched almost $25,000 in the 2001 auction, so it’s unclear why either one would be put on the auction block at a bargain-basement price.

In 2006, Ary was sentenced to three years in prison, and forced to pay more than $130,000 in restitution. He was released on good behavior in 2010. Ary still claims all the pilfered goods were part of a mix-up; he was confused as to which ones were owned by the museum and which were part of his private collection.

Federal officials are currently petitioning to reverse the bag’s sale and get Carlson her money back.

Julian Meehan

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